By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer
Although I still seem to be trapped in the English past – with more past to come (a paradox?)—I'm having a fine theatrical time. Latest installment: two Terence Rattigan one-acts, Harlequinade and All On Her Own.
The legendary actor, Kenneth Branagh, has started a new theatre company and their inaugural season includes productions of A Winter's Tale (with Judi Dench) and Romeo and Juliet. They have opened with the Rattigan double bill, both very dated but both wonderful showcases for actors.
Harlequinade is a farce about a theatre company. Funny thing is, that theatre company is run by a famous actor who is played by Kenneth Branagh, who is starring in their Romeo and Juliet and running in repertory with A Winter's Tale. Well, what a coincidink.
A "harlequinade" is the section of a panto (a traditional British comedy presented for families during the Christmas season) that stars the clown, or the harlequin. Enter Branagh, who with his wife (Miranda Raison)—both of them are far too old to be playing Romeo and Juliet-- is hilarious in self-mockery and slapstick.
It's a silly plot revolving on actors' egos and obliviousness of the outside world, in which there's a baby in the wings, a forgotten-about marriage, a spear-carrier who wants a line of dialogue, and the general chaos of dress rehearsal, overseen by the stage manager (the excellent Tom Bateman).
The splendid Zoe Wanamaker does a great drunk. Actually, she does two great drunks, one in each of these two one-acts. The first, All On Her Own, is a solo show about a recent widow, knocking back whiskeys, talking to her dead husband out of loneliness and grief. It's sheer melodrama, but Wanamaker invests the monologue with genuine pathos. She reappears, more than tipsy, as a grand old dame of the theatre company, playing the Nurse in their rehearsal of R&J.
The whole business ends with a nifty coup de theatre, ending an evening that may be a bit too flimsy to carry the weight of audiences' expectations of seeing two major stars of the stage.