Haunting Drama & Joyous Comedy: Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company's HARLEQUINADE / ALL ON HER OWN at the Garrick

After going to see a live screening of the first play in Kenneth Branagh's 'Plays at the Garrick' season being shown in cinemas last week due to me not being able to get my paws on a ticket to the sold out show (The Winter's Tale starring Judi Dench and Kenneth Branagh himself, that is), my friend Chaya and I took our next step through the season by going to see the Terrence Rattigan double bill that is sharing the Garrick with The Winter's Tale: Harlequinade & All On Her Own. 

The premise of this production is the very short, twenty minute long one-woman play All On Her Own, starring Zoe Wanamaker exclusively, opens the evening with a delightful mix of dark comedy and heartbreak, which is then immediately followed by the laugh out loud funny Harlequinade, also written by Terrence Rattigan.

Let's start by talking about All On Her Own. Despite the play's very short length, a great amount of subject matter seems to be covered and Zoe Wanamaker delivers the story with such elegance and class, much like Judi Dench's performance in The Winter's Tale. However, there's something even more wonderful about Wanamaker's performance simply in this short play alone: her relationship with the audience is so much more intimate despite the fact she spends the entire time talking to herself or embodying her husband, and the role is such a wonderful blend of comedic flair and haunting diatribes that it mimicks the role she once played on My Family that she's so famous for beautifully. If you haven't seen the show, the premise of this short play is that Rosemary (Wanamaker) is spending her evening talking to the "ghost" of her dead husband whilst drinking whiskey in her living room; it eventually turns into a sort of possession where she embodies her dead husband and talks as him, asking herself questions about his life and death. She spends the play asking her "husband" if it was her that led to his untimely passing as she battles with what seems to be a mix of a nervous breakdown and pure guilt. It's a fantastically crafted text by Terrence Rattigan and Zoe Wanamaker pulls it off amazingly - the idea initially seems like such a cliche but it ends up feeling unlike anything I've ever seen before.

As for Harlequinade, it really reminded me of how fantastic British comedy can be. The story of this play was all about the Gosport Family and their famous theatre company putting on a touring production of Romeo and Juliet, whilst also trying to organise a tour to co-incide with that of, funnily, Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale. The entire play is set within a very much extended rehearsal break during the dress run of Romeo and Juliet's first night where calamity and mayhem ensues, and ends with the cast performing to us as an audience on the show's opening night. Though the text is filled with a real sense of reserved humour, it doesn't detract from the play's overall affect on the audience as everyone surrounding me (including myself!) spent a lot of time laughing out loud at how funny it was. It got to the point actually that it began to feel like a sophisticated pantomime and, despite what sometimes felt like a very dated time setting, it was very strangely relatable to today. Kenneth Branagh is an absolute delight to see in this and plays such a drastically contrasting role to the one he took on in The Winter's Tale that is really shows off how flexible he is as both an actor and a talent. Zoe Wanamaker, though small in part in this play, dazzles as the comedic grandmother of the piece and other West End names like Oliver-winner John Dagleish, Hadley Fraser, Jessie Buckley and Miranda Raison add to the fantastic comedy and appeal of this show. It's a joy to watch.

I thoroughly enjoyed my evening at the Garrick and it was a delight to be reminded of just how diverse and incredible British acting talent can be. Unfortunately, Harlequinade/All On Her Own plays its final performance tomorrow evening at the Garrick, but if this production or any other production of these plays pops up again in the future, I know that I'll be there in attendance. I now look forward to the rest of this season of plays even more than before, because of the bar has been set so high. Next up: Red Velvet!

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