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Left: Judi Dench and Kenneth Branagh in The Winter’s Tale Top right: Miranda Raison in The Winter’s Tale Middle: Branagh and Raison in Harlequinade

Zoë Wanamaker in All On Her Own ALL PHOTOS ©JOHAN PERSSON

making who has a great chemistry here with Tom Bateman’s rugged Flo- rizel. Adam Garcia even turns up but in a non-singing role. The Bohemia scenes, which too often can descend into hey nonny nonny awfulness are enlivened here by some expert musical staging thanks to Branagh’s co-director/choreographer, the great Rob Ashford. Harlequinade is a curious counter

balance, a flimsy but amiable back- stage farce, rather like Kiss Me Kate without the songs. It follows the trou- bles of a two-bit provincial touring company taking Shakespeare to the masses and giving Rattigan an oppor- tunity to have a pop at the newly cre- ated Arts Council with its ideas that theater might have a social purpose. The link is that the touring company here is rehearsing both The Winter’s Tale and Romeo and Juliet, which is next up for Branagh to direct. As a farce it is well plotted and

expertly directed. The cheap sets, the actors in tights, the dodgy light cues, the desperate bit part players fretting over their one line are all well observed and Tom Bateman comes into his own here as Jack, the har- ried stage manager, trying to keep the show on the road. Branagh and Miranda Raison too have great fun as Arthur and Enda, the star couple who redefine narcissism and egomania. There are wonderful touches such as Arthur’s inability to recall major his- torical events (the General Strike) and how it impacted on his touring, or his fussing over the placing of a plant pot on the set whilst blithely ignoring his new found daughter: “You mentioned a character called Mum”. Their trou- bles are added to by the walk-out of

a company old ham (Shrapnel) and having a Dame of the British Theatre (Zoë Wanamaker) on board, who is too forthcoming with her acting tips. On tour in the Midlands their

world is rocked with the arrival of the sweet and homely Muriel (Jessie Buckley) who claims to be Arthur’s daughter and who has a husband, and worse, a small baby, in tow. Nat- urally news that he’s a grandfather is not welcome to Arthur, who has just been adding little jumps to his portrayal of Romeo, so as to appear more youthful. “Why couldn’t it have turned up when I was playing King Lear” he gasps. Turns out he and Enda are therefore bigamously mar- ried which becomes a job for their London agent to sort out. After Winter’s Tale, Harlequinade is

a chance for the cast to let their hair down, which they relish for example in a gloriously silly fight scene, but if seen on its own one wonders if its charms will be sufficient for an audi- ence. It is prefaced by a short intense monologue, All On Her Own where Zoë Wanamaker plays a recently widowed, comfortable Hampstead matron, who sits alone at night guz- zling whisky and having an imagi- nary conversation with her late hus- band. He was a Yorkshire builder and self-made man, who struggled with her social aspirations. So, perfect Rattigan territory then. Wanamaker slowly builds the tension as we learn more about the circumstances of his death and wonder if it was suicide or an accident. Written for television in 1968, this is its first theatrical outing and it serves to pad out this curious evening.

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