A middle class family uproot from London and move to remote rural England, inhabiting a manor house that has fallen into ruin. This endeavour is headed by Audrey Walters (Victoria Hamilton). Her determination to regenerate the dying house and garden is only equalled by her stubbornness to make a success of their relocation. And with every obstacle that falls in her path she becomes even more resolute in her objective. This is a play about the turmoil of relationships and the price of creating a legacy at all costs.
It’s always fascinating to see how far boundaries can be pushed on stage and what choices big budget theatres such as the Almeida will take in order to push open the box of our fourth wall reality. This was expressed through the absolutely striking set design (Miriam Buether). No cost was spared in the impressive reimagining of this epic garden. The wonderful moment where it really came to life was a bit of theatre magic and an exciting spectacle to witness.
Those familiar with Mike Bartlett’s work won’t come be surprised to hear that Albion is a very well written piece. Filled with humour and pathos, Bartlett’s knowledge of the human condition is expressed with honesty and relatability. This was supported by a strong cast. Dònal Finn as Gabriel the naïve, aspiring writer and Nicholas Rowe who portrayed the ever accepting husband (Paul Walters) each brought an ease and authenticity to their roles. Yet, although the acting was robust and storyline well written, there was something undeniably uncomfortable about the production
Bartlett touches upon love and sexuality, immigration and housing, war and ethics; all very engaging issues and yet I was left feeling somewhat unsatisfied. And perhaps Bartlett’s eloquent ability to interweave these issues is where the dissatisfaction lies. In many ways Albion reminds me of The Cherry Orchard by Chekov. For in both plays we see the demise of the privileged and watch them mourn over it; wallowing in their distress, yet blind to the advantages they still possess. Albion critiques the middle class enough so that it is noted, but not loudly enough to challenge the status quo of that privileged bubble; a privilege depicted as much in the make-up of the audience as it was on stage. Which is somewhat ironic, particularly as the Almeida discuss the importance of diversifying their theatre demographic in their programme. In entertaining the audience without challenging this situation the production served to enable ignorance rather than to confront it.
Should a play always aim to make a statement? Of course not: I truly believe in the right to create work solely for entertainment purposes. However there was something tangibly disquieting about how this production appeared to reinforce the theatrical hierarchy of class and exclusion, failing to reflect the diversity of the city the venue resides in.
Nevertheless, I am sure that this production will continue to captivate audiences throughout its run. And the wonderful thing about theatre is that there’s always the opportunity to change direction and make a real difference. I remain optimistic that the Almeida will remain committed to making those positive changes.
Written by: Mike Bartlett
Directed by: Rupert Goold
Design by: Miriam Buether
Movement direction by: Rebecca Frecknall
Booking Until: 29 Feb 2020
Box Office: 020 7359 4404
Booking Link: www.almeida.co.uk