wed 25/05/2022

All On Her Own, Stream Theatre online review - a vivid monologue on bereavement | reviews, news & interviews

All On Her Own, Stream.Theatre online review - a vivid monologue on bereavement

All On Her Own, Stream.Theatre online review - a vivid monologue on bereavement

Existential tension between actual and idealised selves

The whisky decanter as confessor: Janie Dee plays RosemaryDanny Kaan

This stunningly delivered online monologue from a bereaved widow to her husband feels simultaneously incredibly timely and very dated. At this time of lockdown it is chilling to wonder how many rooms across the world contain individuals with only ghosts for comfort.

Yet while Terence Rattigan’s 1968 script, written originally for TV, touches on a current aspect of bereavement, the details of the marriage depicted stem from a world as distant as corned beef fritters and Harold Wilson’s pipe.

Janie Dee (main picture) is pitch perfect as a woman teetering between denial and self-realisation. She walks into her immaculate Hampstead living room in an immaculate outfit – demure silk shirt and beautifully cut trousers – and goes straight to the decanter. For the remaining 25 minutes, the whisky will prove to be her confessor as she sways between assertiveness and an interrogation of everything she thought she was.

Alastair Knights’ elegantly paced production looks at the problems class difference could create in a marriage long before the ripple effects from the year in which the piece was written genuinely changed the world. True, Britain now exists under the sway of a government that resonantly reinforces the class divide with its nostalgia-choked Etonian credentials. Yet it’s also crucial to acknowledge that those same old Etonians must today smuggle themselves into power by pretending to represent working class beliefs at the same time that they betray them.

The idea, then, that a woman could undervalue her husband simply because he wasn’t the right class fails to acknowledge the complexity of the dialogue that Britain is now having with itself about its class system. Covid dominates our collective consciousness, but Brexit rained down retribution on the metropolitan elite. This ironically means that any Hampstead intellectual – and Rosemary without doubt considers herself part of this tribe – could only assert themselves through declaring guilt at any assumption of superiority.

Janie Dee as Rosemary Hodge in 'All On Her Own'Where does this leave the relationship between Rosemary and her husband, Gregory? We get a strong sense of what he was like because Dee so vividly reincarnates his stubborn anti-intellectual persona, switching between her cut-glass tones and his no-nonsense Northern interjections. The first thing we discover is that he wouldn’t have enjoyed Kafka. That in itself creates a wobbly start, since this decision is clearly linked to class, and the idea that social background determines whether or not you read Kafka has become obsolete.

Repression (a Rattigan constant) was more on-trend in the late Sixties, yet the tilt between our actual selves and our idealised selves will never cease to be an existential tension. The script would have been made more powerful by letting us see why she might have originally fallen in love with Gregory. Rosemary is clearly uptight and prejudiced – so what was the moment that her made her desire her apparent opposite? Pure lust? Rebellion? A recognition that he embodied an escape from a world which defined her yet she essentially despised?

Where the production does work is in that electric sense of loss Dee brings to every word. When she asks a question to the empty room, we feel powerfully in the silence that follows that she is listening for an answer. In the upward tilt of her head we see that Gregory was taller and that his widow longs to glimpse anew the human who once gave her a sense of purpose. And when she speaks Gregory’s words and her voice deepens, she could as well be a medium channelling a life from another world.

This is all the more impressive because the backdrop does little to help. The production was filmed at Flemings Mayfair Hotel, which looks beautiful precisely because it doesn’t seem as if it’s been lived in for 24 hours – hell, for 24 minutes – without staff intervening to repair the damage. If you’re trying to learn about the damage done to a fellow human by grief, and Rosemary is too reined-in to express that in words or her own appearance, you will be looking for clues in her surroundings. It’s difficult to imagine Gregory alive or dead in this perfectly manicured living area, and that ultimately diminishes the impact.

It’s something of a triumph, then, that Dee still makes something special out of a dramatic curio last seen on the West End with Zoë  Wanamaker as part of the Kenneth Branagh season at the Garrick Theatre. In the silences, in those moments of surreptitious hypocrisy, we are all haunted by what might or might not have happened - and indeed, by those conversations that people the world over will be now having with loved ones who are eternally absent. On more than one level, All On Her Own makes you impatient for a time when science will make both personal and artistic collaboration possible again.


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