Theatre, Comedy
4 out of 5 stars
5 out of 5 stars
(2user reviews)
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan PerssonKenneth Branagh (Arthur Gosport) and Kathryn Wilder (Joyce Langland)
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan PerssonTom Bateman (Jack Wakefield) and John Dagleish (Policeman)
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan PerssonAnsu Kabia (Johnny) Zoe Wanamaker (Dame Maud) Tom Bateman (Jack Wakefield) and John Dagleish (Policeman)
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan PerssonKenneth Branagh (Arthur Gosport)
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan PerssonTom Bateman (Jack Wakefield) and Hadley Fraser (First Halberdier)
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan PerssonZoe Wanamaker (Dame Maud)
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan PerssonZoe Wanamaker in 'All On Her Own'
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan PerssonZoe Wanamaker in 'All On Her Own'
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan PerssonZoe Wanamaker in 'All On Her Own'
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan PerssonZoe Wanamaker in 'All On Her Own'

This sparkling Terence Rattigan double bill is the strongest of the opening plays in Kenneth Branagh's West End season

An old-fashioned rep company flogging creaky versions of Shakespeare’s ‘The Winter’s Tale’ and ‘Romeo and Juliet’, led by an old luvvie whose career has, frankly, seen better days…  

Okay, it would be manifestly churlish to apply that description to the Kenneth Branagh Company, especially as we won’t see their ‘Romeo and Juliet’ until next year. But with a modicum of naughtiness that summary of Terence Rattigan’s sparkling backstage farce ‘Harlequinade’ can be applied to the overwrought ‘Winter’s Tale’ that it’s running in rep with. And the bizarre thing is, Sir Ken surely knows that on some level.

In ‘Harlequinade’, he stars, brilliantly, as blithely un-self-aware old thesp Arthur Gosport, a man who would surely applaud Branagh’s ludicrously overwrought turn as Leontes in the concurrently-running ‘Tale’. There were moments where I had the mad thought that Branagh and Rob Ashford – who co-directs both plays with him – had staged their overripe ‘Tale’ purely as a set up for the punchline of ‘Harlequinade’. Obviously not, but the programming exhibits a level of self-consciousness the ‘Tale’ could have done with. 

‘Harlequinade’ is a proto-‘Noises Off’ comedy that has the reputation of being a bit of froth, and fair enough. But before it starts, though, there’s a well-judged shot of pathos with a performance of the short Rattigan monologue ‘All On Her Own’. In it Zoe Wanamaker plays a widow drunkenly dissecting the failure of her marriage to her late husband. She cuts a slightly absurd figure, adopting her husband’s Huddersfield accent to enter a dialogue with herself – but Wanamaker’s performance is a miniature tour de force as she mercilessly drives herself to confront the failings of her marriage and her culpability for them. 

On to the main play, and Branagh is genuinely fantastic as Gosport, a jaded but hopeful old ham whose youthful indiscretions catch up with him as he tours a creaky production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ around the provinces. Branagh really is a great comic, bringing a John Cleese-ish deadpan charm to the part of an absurd man entirely detached from reality, sheltered from the outside world by his long-suffering company. It’s giving me a headache to even contemplate the fact that he can do this and not see how silly his Leontes is, but that’s showbiz, I suppose.

By: Andrzej Lukowski


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Very good and funny. first part a little bit disappointing. seat n21 restricted view is a good cheap seat with a lot of leg room.


This is the second production I've seen of Branagh's West End season, and it did not disappoint. 

Wanamaker was compelling in her monologue performance of All On Her Own - filling the stage despite her solitude. The Harlequinade then bounced into play, as a colourful antidote to the drama and sorrow that had gone before. 

The ensemble cast were entertaining, and the light comedy of the script was enhanced by standout turns by Branagh and Raison as the central couple. Zoe Wanamaker elevated her small role with her typical dry humour, and the entire experience was a joyous romp. 

Better yet, it ran to 1 hour and 40 minutes with no interval - no time to get bored or tired, but enough to feel you'd enjoyed a good evening's entertainment. This seems to be the least popular of all the series, but I'd heartily recommend it.