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A CurtainUp London London Review

"I know it's just me talking to myself in a bad Huddersfield accent." — Rosemary Hodge in All On Her Own

"Bit scatter brained isn't he?" — Theatre Manager
"I doubt if you can scatter a void." — Jack
Ansu Kabia (Johnny), Zoe Wanamaker (Dame Maud), Tom Bateman (Jack Wakefield) and John Dagleish (Policeman (Photo: Johan Persson)
These two minor plays from the much admired (by me and many others) Terence Rattigan do not do his reputation any good. Harlequinade he described as a "light souffle" and it was designed to follow the serious and profound "The Browning Version". A recent very successful production of the more famous play had a newly written companion piece penned by David Hare.

Harlequinade looks at a pair of touring actors, a married couple who are still playing Romeo and Juliet despite their advancing years. It is essentially an old fashioned farce but sadly without enough humour to raise more than an occasional smile. Kenneth Branagh plays Arthur Gosport the aging Romeo whose romantic past catches up with him on his return to the provinces where he seduced a young woman, fathering a child. The snag is that he actually was hitched to the teenage mother of his child and has since entered into a bigamous marriage to Edna Selby (Miranda Raison).

Tom Bateman has the best role. He is Jack the resident theatre director who is considering his alternative career. The sets are of course painted and cheap as they would have been for a touring company in this era.

Although set in the late 1940s, Rattigan is said to have based his acting theatre manager and wife on a couple he acted with in a minor one line role when he was at Oxford. Sir John Gielguid was the actor manager and Peggy Ashcroft his Juliet. Rattigan had the part of a musician who finds Juliet's body and his one line was "Faith, we may put up our pipes and be gone." This line was greeted on the first night with roars of laughter from the audience and not the reaction that the director was looking for from Juliet's death.

In Harlequinade we can feel the younger playwright's empathy with the actors with tiny roles as three of them argue about a spear carrier line. This play may show a theatre long lost which other forms of mass entertainment have replaced. Zoe Wanamaker has the role of Mr Gosport's elderly aunt, Dame Maud who is playing Juliet's nurse in a wonderful horned wimpled nun's outfit.

The hors d'oeuvre, not that Harlequinade deserves the title of a main work; you will remember it was a souffle; is a 20 minute monologue from Zoe Wanamaker as the widow of a dead Yorkshire builder. She always told people that he was an architect. You see architect has more middle class kudos that builder. It seems that he couldn't live up to her expectations and took the easy way out. Rosemary shows a surprising self awareness as she comments wryly that she is talking to a dead "you" and says "Mind you, talking to a live you wasn't that different!" All On Her Own is shown before Harlequinade; it was written as a radio play for Margaret Leighton and its origins defy even the wonderful Miss Wanamaker from making it a West End draw.

If only Harlequinade and All On Her Own had been left where they belong, in a library of theatre archive best forgotten and Kenneth Branagh had revived a Rattigan classic.

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Written by Terence Rattigan
Directed by Kenneth Branagh and Rob Ashford

Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Zoe Wanamaker, Miranda Raison, Tom Bateman
With: Jaygann Ayeh, Jessie Buckley, Vera Chok, Jack Colgrave Hirst, John Dagleish, Hadley Fraser, Ansu Kabia, Stuart Neal, Zoe Rainey, Michael Rouse, John Shrapnel, Kathryn Wilder, Jimmy Yuill
Design: Christopher Oram
Sound: Christopher Shutt
Lighting: Neil Austin
Choreographer: Rob Ashford
Composer: Patrick Doyle
Projection Design: Jon Driscoll
Running time: One hour 40 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 020 7492 0810
Booking to 13th January 2016
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 7th November 2015 performance at the Garrick, 2 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 2HH (Rail/Tube: Charing Cross)
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