Writer: Terence Rattigan
Director: Alastair Knights
Coming home from a party, and a rather dull one at that, the image of a wife talking to her husband as she walks through the door, he having made his excuses for not attending, is as quaint and mundane a picture as possible. But then there isn’t a response from the husband. And we learn that Rosemary Hodge is speaking with her deceased partner Gregory. Spurred on by a friend’s ‘bizarre’ antics in talking with their departed husband too, Rosemary begins to test the waters as she tries speaking to Gregory as a sense of closure, out of loneliness, and as truth unfolds out of guilt.
It isn’t all champagne and memories, as a sinister shadow lurks over Rosemary’s face, both metaphorical and literal. As the whiskey sours into the air, a toxic presence emerges as Rosemary confronts the truth about her late husband. Rosemary begins to answer for Gregory, filling in the silences he was leaving behind, but we never know precisely if these are her expected answers, honest thoughts, or something else. The shame of her husband’s career path, their differences and Gregory’s “accident” all come to a twisted, dramatic conclusion in Terence Rattigan’s All On Her Own.
There’s a line early into playwrighting-treasure Rattigan’s script which shudders the steeliest of nerves as Rosemary quips that talking with her departed husband ‘might even make me honest’. It muddies the entire narrative and introduces elements of the complicated life Rosemary and Gregory shared. And as emotive and well-structured as Rattigan’s writing is, the production is sold with the solo performance of Janie Dee as Rosemary.
The anguish in Dee’s portrayal, the hurt and recognition she conveys as a woman who simultaneously rekindles what she has lost with the realisation of what she was unaware of, is powerful to watch. But it’s understated, and staves off melodramatic tendencies. Dee carries the show, which despite being a monologue has sequences of ‘dialogue’ as Rosemary channels her husband, answering her questions and lamenting the loss of his life. The dipping in and out of accents, control and expressions Dee conjures holds the audience and turns any heads which may not have realised how engrossing a production All On Her Own may have been.
Cascading an ever-shifting darkness, Ben Bull’s editing (with Dan Bywater’s camera assistance) mirrors this sinister dimension in the scene’s lighting and framing. Filmed in the Flemings Mayfair Hotel, the symmetrical opulence reflects the desired setting of a plumber’s architect’s dream-home, but its pristine nature also conceals a murky history. A further understanding emanates from the original music by Lyndsey Miller, which from the opening credits does everything required to disguise the emotional journey the audience will go on, from intrigue, sympathy and eventual shock.
Precise in construct, the audio clues are minimal, yet deft in their effectiveness. Each snippet of a clock ticking seems to ricochet from Rosemary’s thoughts; ‘what time did you die?’. These minuscule, arguably unnoticeable cues push the narrative forward without contrition. Little, if any, of Rattigan’s writing is contrite, flowing as naturally as Rosemary’s third whiskey. Just as the questions ebb or the conversation lingers, these small sounds tap the story back into a rocking motion of momentum.
Sharing more than a passing resemblance to the forgone Play For Today, All On Her Own makes for a superbly compact piece, which understands the limitations of a one-person performance. Just shy of the half-hour mark there are resolutions given, even if there have been no answers. Those canny enough to read Dee’s facial gestures and turn their ears for one final clock chime need not wonder what the fate of Gregory turns out to be. It’s morose, yet an investing script, this short piece of magnificence from one of the UK’s finest playwrights bellows with a devotion to the theatre.
Available here until 21 February 2021