Pros: An incredibly slick production, with clever direction and a monumental performance from Victoria Hamilton.
Cons: After a spectacular first half, the second half only slightly loses momentum.
If you have never been to the Almeida Theatre, then you are missing out. Rupert Goold, most recently famous for directing the critically acclaimed Charles III, is creative director of this off West End theatre. As a performance space it feels polished and unique. Entering to take my seat for Goold’s latest project, Albion, I was taken aback by the beautiful stage with an overpowering, and eerily lit, very lifelike tree at one end. The serene English garden was to be the setting for the drama, the humour and the sorrow of this remarkable play.
Audrey, played by Victoria Hamilton, buys an English country house called Albion in order to restore its gardens to their previous majesty. The play begins with the revelation that she has spread the ashes of her dead son, who died at war in a roadside bomb, in the garden. It is hard to sum up the story in such a short space, since it unfolds over a lengthy three hours, but it is layered with meaning and full of nuance. It’s at once a commentary on the multi-cultural, multi-ideologic, and somewhat intolerant cooking pot Britain has become, while at the same time uncovering and exploring what it is to be human – the pain, the joy and the failings.
A multitude of characters, including Audrey’s seemingly confident daughter Zara, the bumbling neighbour Gabriel, her romantic literary friend Catherine, and her easy-going husband, enter Audrey’s garden and add to the unfolding drama. The acting is brilliant across the board. Luke Thallon is excellent at portraying Gabriel’s decline, from an eager and innocent writer to a despondent and wretched barista. Helen Schlessinger is also magnificent as the mysterious, intellectual snob that is Catherine. But the undeniable star of the show is Victoria Hamilton as Audrey. Hamilton is immensely funny and totally believable as the powerful, neurotic protagonist. She portrays so effortlessly the humanity behind Audrey’s formidable façade, and her monumental performance over the course of the three-hour show is astonishing.
The direction by Rupert Goold is, of course, brilliant. The scene where Audrey’s dead son’s wife-to-be, played by Vinette Robinson, loses her mind and writhes around in soil, and then her deceased love’s ashes, is breathtaking. There is also some clever direction when the cast move the timeframe of the play along by planting the outside of the stage with beautiful flowers. In fact, this scene moved me to tears.
At a time where there is such hatred and misunderstanding between sides of the Brexit debate, and indeed beyond this (just look to Trump’s America for evidence of the growing divide), Albion is a clever commentary on the political uncertainty that we find ourselves in. But, perhaps more importantly than this, it is a funny, moving and immensely human account of what it means to be British: our heritage, our hopes and, ultimately, our failings.
Author: Mike Bartlett
Director: Rupert Goold
Box Office: 020 7359 4404
Booking Link: https://almeida.co.uk/whats-on/albion/10-oct-2017-24-nov-2017
Booking Until: 24 November 2017