Harlequinade at the Garrick Theatre
Harlequinade is the second in a double feature of plays by Terence Rattigan, performed without an interval directly after All on Her Own. The heaviness of All on Her Own and the comedy of Harlequinade provide a sharp contrast when shown in such quick succession, highlighting the latter’s humour.
This was one of Rattigan’s earlier and more successful plays, prior to his reputation waning, and its fast-paced wit makes his previous success understandable. The play was written as a result of The Committee for the Encouragement of Music and Art (CEMA), the government initiative to give funding to the arts. This is also mentioned in the performance, creating the running theme of a bridge between reality and the play.
Harlequinade tells the story of a dress-rehearsal of a production of Romeo and Juliet in Burnley, with revelations about various cast members coming to light through a series of bumbling confusions. The self-involved lead actors, Arthur Gosport and Edna Selby, are oblivious to the circumstances they’ve created and the weary and ever put-upon production manager Jack Wakefield tentatively tries to hold everything together.
This quick comedic farce revolves around perfect timing and exaggerated characters who are likeable, even in their folly. The play is thoroughly tongue-in-cheek, poking fun at the world of theatre in a knowing manner; the audience are brought into the madness of the Stage and the difficulty of dealing with actors.
The cast are brilliant, with even the most minor characters stealing the scenes in their brief appearances. Branagh as Arthur Gosport is suitably arrogant with a fragile ego that requires continuous coddling. Miranda Raison as Edna Selby is a loyal wife, who seems only able to operate in dramatic hyperbole. Zoe Wannamaker’s drunken and disillusioned Dame Maude owns the stage whenever she appears, stumbling about, displaying her abilities in physical comedy as well as in her dry delivery of cutting lines. Tom Bateman as Wakefield truly stands out, holding the cast together and playing the straight man to a host of absurd characters. With such a high standard of performance and such quick and cutting writing, it is hard not to thoroughly enjoy this play.
Photo: Johan Person
Harlequinade is on at the Garrick Theatre from 24th October until 13th January, for further information or to book visit here.