All On Her Own review: Janie Dee shines in this short but spooky monologue

·2-min read
 (Press handout)
(Press handout)

Here’s a spooky, old-fashioned diversion, and a chance to see one of our finest stage actors in a performance of up-close, tautly contained emotion. The ever-versatile Janie Dee, recently seen IRL in Follies and The Boyfriend, here takes on Terence Rattigan’s monologue in which a woman communes with her dead husband and a large glass of whisky.

You could call it spiritualism. As he begins to speak through her, we ask ourselves whether it’s an impersonation or a possession. And whether he accidentally killed himself with pills and booze or was driven to suicide.

Dee’s Rosemary Hodge is well-spoken and chic in silk blouse and slacks, hair drawn severely back. Gradually we gather that she considered herself a cut above her spouse, demanding a house in Hampstead and an Eton schooling for their sons, wincing at his northern colloquialisms and earthiness. They may not have known each other that well. He hints that she was a younger trophy wife and points out that she’s “doing” him in a Huddersfield accent, when he was born in Newcastle.

It’s a very spare piece of work that runs less than 30 minutes but Alastair Knights’ production instils a spidery sense of unease throughout. Dee is terrific in it. With each jerk of her hands or crimp of her eyes, she shows the character slowly losing control. Whether this is a ghost story or a study of loneliness doesn’t ultimately matter.

It’s curious how much the evolving hybrid of theatre and film evokes TV of a bygone era, like Play for Today and similar dramas that were shot with a stagy sense of space but a filmic intimacy. Rattigan’s piece is uniquely well-suited to the form, not only because a one-woman show fits easily into pandemic restrictions, but also because it was first presented on TV in 1968 and on stage in 1974.

It wouldn’t make a standalone night in the theatre now and was last done in 2015 by Zoë Wanamaker as a curtain-raiser for Rattigan’s Harlequinade, in Kenneth Branagh’s 2015 season at the Garrick. And I do wonder how many housebound punters will pay £8 plus a booking fee for a short monologue when you can download a blockbuster for less. But those are the calculations all producers are making while theatres remain closed. And for fans of Dee’s live performances, I’d say it’s worth it.

Streaming 16-21 Feb on stream.theatre. allonherown.com.

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