All On Her Own
by Terence Rattigan
Directed by Kenneth Branagh & Rob Ashford
Set and Costume design by Christopher Oram
Lighting by Neil Austin
The Kenneth Branagh Company
Garrick Theatre, London
All On Her Own
Rosemary Hodge – Zoe Wanamaker
Second Halberdier – Jaygann Ayeh
Jack Wakefield – Tom Bateman
Arthur Gosport, actor / manager – Kenneth Branagh
Muriel Palmer- Jessie Buckley
Miss Fishlock, company clerk / secretary – Vera Chok
Tom Palmer – Jack Holegrave Hirst
Policeman – John Dalgleish
First Halberdier – Hadley Fraser
Johnny, assistant stage manager – Ansu Kabia
Fred Ingram, an actor – Stuart Neal
Wardrobe Mistress – Zoe Rainey
Edna Selby, Arthur’s wife and leading lady – Miranda Raison
Rehearsal Pianist – Michael Rouse
George Chudleigh – John Shrapnel
Dame Maud – Zoe Wanamaker
Joyce Langland – Kathryn Wilder
Mr Burton – Jimmy Yull
Two plays, performed together without an interval. Harlequinade was announced in the initial publicity as connected to The Winter’s Tale with which it is playing in repertory. There was advice somewhere that you should see The Winter’s Tale first, which we did last week. Harlequinade is about a theatre company rehearsing Romeo and Juliet … which appears later in the Kenneth Branagh Season … as well as casting The Winter’s Tale. Actually, The Winter’s Tale with six girls waiting (unseen) backstage to be auditioned for the part of Perdita, is only there to allow one bit of confusion in the plot. Rattigan once considered Perdita as a title … it is about a lost daughter. However, it is probably right that you should see this company “straight” before seeing them as “send up.”
There is an extra interest in a company playing two plays in repertory, as at the RSC. The only switch is Judi Dench and Michael Pennington only being present for The Winter’s Tale and Zoe Wanamaker, who is not in The Winter’s Tale, doing All On Her Own solo, then joining the company in Harlequinade.
All On Her Own
Zoe Wanamaker as Mrs Hodge
This is a short solo TV piece, dating from 1968, and it didn’t appear on stage until 1974. It appeared at the nadir of Rattgan’s popularity as one of 13 plays commissioned by the BBC from famous writers. The obvious comparison is Alan Bennett’s monologues which work best on radio (Radio 4) or TV where we can see tight close ups of the speaker. In Rattigan’s piece, Mrs Hodge is addressing her dead husband in her imgination late at night, and it’s not really a monologue because Zoe Wanamaker imagines his Huddersfield accent, allowing her to dialogues with herown RP. Brilliant acting. It’s very short. No plot spoilers. But we have exactly the same black and chrome sofa and chair … ours was a Heal’s copy of the classic original as I’m sure this was.
Dame Maud (Zoe Wanamaker) collapses in shock, caught by Tom Bateman as the stage manager on arrival of policeman (John Dalgleish)
This was also a one act play, dating from 1948, and originally paired with The Browning Version as Playbill. Kenneth Branagh (Sunday Times Culture, 8 November) points out that it’s a short play with a large cast of seventeen, which is why it’s rarely performed. Too rarely.
I noticed that the play text in Foyles dumps Harlequinade in the back of The Browning Version volume, and only The Browning Version is mentioned on the book’s title and spine. The play is therefore most unfairly obscure! It’s about a theatre company rehearsing Romeo and Juliet in the provinces. The lead actors in the company are Arthur Gosport and Edna Selby (Kenneth Branagh and Miranda Raison) who are married. Just as they were as Leontes and Hermione in the other play at the Garrick this month. Just to keep it in the family, Jessie Buckley who plays their daughter, Perdita, in The Winter’s Tale is also Arthur and Edna’s daughter, Muriel, in this one. Tom Bateman (Florizel in the other one) is Jack, the stage manager, in this. The cross connections and self-parody spiral … Arthur is the actor / manager / director, just as Sir Kenneth is, and doing the same two plays.
Kenneth Branagh (Arthur Gosport as Romeo), Miranda Raison (Edna Selby as Juliet) plus wobbly balcony
Anyway, their daughter Muriel arrives with grandchild in tow to the eventual horror of Arthur, who is playing Romeo in this one. Being a grandad is the signal that playing Romeo is a stretch too far. It’s a good old comedy situation … one Lucy Bailey worked into The Importance of Being Earnest as done by an ageing cast in the West End and on tour last year. They were pretending to be the amateur Bunbury Players, but I’m sure the stars of professional touring rep also continued playing young leads for many years after they should have shifted from Romeo to Hamlet to Claudius, or even eventually to Lear. They’re working on a cardboardy two-dimensional set for Romeo and Juliet complete with balcony and tomb. I loved the fact that the balcony was wobbly just the once … to Edna’s terror. We have the backstage crew as part of the cast.
The programme notes say that Terence Rattigan based it on his experience of watching John Geilgud directing a prestige Oxford University production in 1932, in which Rattigan had just one line on seeing Juliet’s dead body. Apparently, the audience fell apart laughing every time he said it. The line is used in Harlequinade: “Faith we may put up our pipes and be gone.” The actor playing it in this play “George Chudleigh” decides to retire mid-rehearsal, and the two halbedieres compete to get the part … which just has the single line.
It is a farce … comic mistaken identity, people getting locked up backstage, a comedy policeman who terrifies them all (quite innocently).
Throughout our thespian pair, Arthur and Edna, are most worried about the over-bright lights making them look old. This sparked personal memories of my old boss, when we were doing plays for ELT students. He played, er, somewhat younger than his age. Only about 25 years. And he and I had long discussions on lighting his main positions with straw gels in the lights, and avoiding the glare of white light. I almost had tears running down my face as Arthur and Edna displayed the same fears.
Kenneth Branagh as Arthur Gosport
There’s a Kenneth Branagh story which I was told by participants. At a Comic Relief event years ago there was a day of improv, with all the star TV improv comedians involved. Branagh turned up, and they all thought they’d easily show him up on entering their field. However, I was told by two participants, he was so easily the best comedian and improviser of the day. They started the day snotty about him, and ended the day total fans. I had never seen him in full on stage comedy before Harlequinade He is one of the best comic actors I’ve ever seen. Impeccable timing, hilarious facial expression, and a participant in the funniest stage sword fight I’ve ever seen. And yes, he is partly sending up Gielgud, and I suspect Olivier, but also creating in Arthur Gosport a new character again. Rattigan admitted it was also based on a 1944 production with Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontaine. He described them “reminiscent of Geilgud, only worse, because there are two of them. ” (Programme essay). Kenneth Branagh and Miranda Raison recreate the perfect double act here … she is also hilarious. Her facial expressions as she watches the mayhem are so good I want to see it all again so I can shift my view around and watch her more! Add in Zoe Wanamaker as Dame Maud, playing the ancient nurse to Juliet, full of theatrical advice on what it was like in her day.
The 1946 writing of the play came during a shake up in the arts, with the foundation of the Arts Council as a government body. That in turn was based on the wartime CEMA which was set up to bring theatre to the far provinces. The two play here, All On Her Own and Harlequinade, are linked with an original public service film with R.A. Butler explaining CEMA. However, the original film has been seamlessly doctored to show the Arthur Gosport production on the map in “Brackley.” Rattigan at various points is expressing his views on public funded arts, and indeed on the Old Vic. The Old Vic got moved off to Burnley after the theatre was bomb-damaged, and had to send companies to take Shakespeare to mining villages, a point Rattigan lampoons here. The Old Vic was also the Arts Council funded forerunner to the National Theatre.
Hadley Fraser, as the First Halbediere (who has just lost his one line) ends the play with a terrific solo song.
Three curtain calls. Massive applause and calling. I was amazed it didn’t get a standing ovation. It deserved one.
The play is a revelation. I thought Rattigan’s Separate Tables was first rate last year. So was this, intrinsically, as play writing. It eradicated my doubts on seeing Rattigan’s terribly stiff and patriotic Flare Path, recently. The programme devotes a page to the famous quote, when a theatre manager told Rattigan, “We so like putting on your plays here, Mr Rattigan. They pay for the good ones.” When you see Flare Path, you see the manager’s point perhaps, but Harlequinade is a truly great farce.
FIVE STARS (* * * * *)
Combined with The Winter’s Tale. I’d rather have had two separate ones, as you only get one essay on each. The essay on Rattigan is particularly good.
See The Winter’s Tale review for comments on the theatre environment.
TERENCE RATTIGAN PLAYS ON THIS BLOG:
- All On Her Own by Terence Rattigan, Kenneth Branagh Company 2015
- Flare Path, by Terence Rattigan, 2015 Tour, at Salisbury Playhouse
- Harlequinade by Terence Rattigan, Kenneth Branagh Company 2015
- Ross by Terence Rattigan, Chichester Festival Theatre 2016
- Separate Tables by Terence Rattigan, Salisbury Playhouse
- The Deep Blue Sea by Terence Rattigan (FILM VERSION)
- While The Sun Shines by Terence Rattigan, Bath, 2016
- French Without Tears by Terence Rattigan, ETT, Poole Lighthouse