Review: All On Her Own (Online production)
Janie Dee stars in a digital version of Terence Rattigan's play
The playwright Terence Rattigan and the actress Janie Dee are both experts on the subtleties of regret, on the distance between what you hope for and what you experience, on the difficulty of putting a brave face on sorrow.
Whoever had the idea of getting Dee to star in Rattigan's 1968 monologue, about a grieving widow, originally written for TV, is to be congratulated for providing us with a mini lockdown masterpiece, a 25-minute study of mismatched love that speaks much more loudly than many longer more elaborate productions.
Dee plays Rosemary, sitting alone in her London home, getting quietly "woozled" as her late husband Gregory would have called it, with the whisky decanter emptying rapidly in front of her. As she drinks, she mulls over the circumstances of his death, on this very sofa, at this very time, from a combination of alcohol and sleeping tablets. Was it an accident as the police and the coroner have decided or was it deliberate? She will never know.
That thought haunts her as much as the ghost of Gregory himself and she begins to channel his voice, creating a dialogue between man and wife, trying to understand the combination of circumstances that might have driven him to take his own life. As she does this, a picture of a marriage emerges, full of different expectations and buried guilt. Rosemary is posh, polite, uptight; Dee plays her in immaculate silk shirt and trousers, hair pulled back fiercely in a ponytail. She called her husband an architect, though he was a builder. She persuaded him to move from Huddersfield to this Hampstead home. Even as she imitates his voice, she realises she didn't understand him; she gives him a "bad" Yorkshire accent although he was born in Newcastle.
The play was last seen on stage in Kenneth Branagh's Rattigan double bill, in 2015, and it is a sliver of a thing but driven by powerful emotions: rage, despair, guilt, desperation, love. Dee registers each one of these with incredible precision, her face crumpling as truths that she has dredged up from her own memory begin to hit home. In Alastair Knights' well-paced direction, she finds moments of stillness and total poise, where you can almost see the thoughts racing behind her bright eyes.
It's a really good performance and it climbs over the limitations of the online production, which is available for eight performances until February 21 via www.stream.theatre. The hotel room chosen as a set isn't really convincing as a home, however icy. People might think £8, plus booking fee is a lot to pay for so slim an offering. But to be honest, you could pay a lot more for a lot less. This is like watching two masters of suppressed and misunderstood emotion at work, and it's profoundly compelling.