Janie Dee shines in streamed production of Terence Rattigan's 'All On Her Own'
Tuesday, 16 February, 2021, 17:07
Solo plays are everywhere these days and why not? Made to order for the constraints and restrictions of our time, the resurgence of the monologue has given rise to entertainments as varied as last year’s reboot of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads, seen first on TV and then onstage at the Bridge Theatre, all the way to Clint Dyer and Roy Williams’s Death of England: Delroy, in which a single performer, Michael Balogun, brought the National’s largest stage to teeming, vibrant life.
So it’s not too surprising to note the renewed interest in All On Her Own, a slice of Terence Rattigan esoterica that premiered on TV in 1968 as a vehicle for Margaret Leighton and was last glimpsed on local stages when Kenneth Branagh included it in his eclectic 2015 season of work at the Garrick Theatre: Zoe Wanamaker took the role then of the woebegone Rosemary Hodge. The same part of the whisky-drinking Hampstead widow here falls online to Janie Dee, who worked with her current director, Alastair Knights, in last summer’s wonderful alfresco concert performance — live (those were the days)! — of A Little Night Music at Holland Park Opera. That rain-soaked evening included the not quickly forgotten sight of Dee stepping out into the elements to deliver a defiant “Send in the Clowns” in which art seemed to be mounting a direct challenge to nature.
Defiance is on view here, as well, alongside rage, grief, and a reckoning with the dead that finds Rosemary in nocturnal conversation with a husband, Gregory, whose death may or may not have been accidental and with whom his tearful wife has plenty of scores still to settle. Attempting to stave off a loneliness that you feel has seeped into every fibre of her being, Rosemary imagines both sides of the conversation with a husband a social rank or two beneath her: “I begin, you take over,” says Rosemary, shifting voices and accents as she attempts a belated reckoning with the dead from within the comforts of the very Hampstead home that the working-class Gregory reportedly hated. Indeed, across the 30 minutes or so of the performance, I was mesmerised throughout not just by Dee but by the soft furnishings of her surroundings: the venture was in fact filmed at Flemings Mayfair Hotel, located a fair distance from Hampstead.
As timing would have it, the renewed presence within the past year of Bennett’s Talking Heads very much suggests All On Her Own as a precursor of the 86-year-old Yorkshireman’s reports from the frontline of solitude, the crucial difference being that Bennett’s narratives often contain a climactic sting, or surprise, not to be found here. What you see is pretty much what you get with Rattigan this time out in an acting exercise that seems to riff on the sorts of anxious, desperate women he dramatised to more fully rounded effect in classic plays like The Deep Blue Sea. Next to a title of that stature, All On Her Own is best regarded as a dramatic curio and a further chance for the limitlessly talented Dee to expand her repertoire yet further.
At first, her face locked into position as if in shock, Dee’s Rosemary communicates a psyche transfixed by memory and consumed by loss. Searching for some sort of sign from beyond the grave, she reaches repeatedly for the decanter, her emotions tumbling forth as greater amounts of booze get poured. I’m not sure Rattigan – a consummate chronicler of feelings withheld and indrawn – benefits from the unbridled release that Dee exhibits here, which tilt towards the histrionic. The actress is at her best weighing up various word choices – is “unfailingly” the right adverb or maybe it’s “invariably” or even “impeccably”? Gregory’s profession is put to similar scrutiny: “architect” is too grand, in which case perhaps “building contractor” or simply “plumber” describes him best. Come the conclusion, you feel that Rosemary has arrived not at a place of catharsis but at a hard-won exhaustion. Her thoughts will remain under siege, she tells us, “until the end of time”, and in the meanwhile, such chattering into the void notwithstanding, the character exists despondently, distressingly all on her own.
Photo credit: Janie Dee in 'All On Her Own' (Photo by Danny Kaan)