Review: Albion, Almeida Theatre

PUBLISHED: 14:08 10 February 2020 | UPDATED: 14:08 10 February 2020

Albion at The Almeida Theatre Victoria Hamilton as Audrey picture; Marc Brenner

Albion at The Almeida Theatre Victoria Hamilton as Audrey picture; Marc Brenner

Archant

A timely return for Mike Bartlett’s incisive, stirring Brexit play which examines faultlines of class and town versus country through one woman’s nostalgia for a garden

Albion at The Almeida Theatre Picture by Marc BrennerAlbion at The Almeida Theatre Picture by Marc Brenner

"A house to dream of and a garden to dream in," declares homewares-entrepreneur Audrey Walters as she stands beneath the large oak on the grounds of her recently purchased country pile.

With her family by her side, Audrey hopes she can return the dilapidated gardens to their former glory.

This assured play is the handiwork of Mike Bartlett, of Dr Foster and King Charles III fame, and whose most recent engagement at the Almeida was last autumn's flat-footed adaptation of Maxim Gorky's Vassa.

It makes the return of his Brexit-inspired 2017 'play of the year' a timely atonement.

The Walters are Londoners, palpably comfier amid the bustle of city life than the alien terrain and customs of the countryside. But Audrey (Victoria Hamilton) comes from the country, and indeed her old friend Katherine Sanchez (Helen Schlesinger) still lives there. Audrey and Katherine may class themselves as lifelong friends, but do they really know one another? After all, inward-looking Audrey is oblivious to Katherine's standing as an esteemed author studied at top level red brick universities.

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Audrey's daughter, Zara (Daisy Edgar-Jones), is more than aware, however, and fawns over her literary achievements.

The cocktail of differing personalities, experience and attitudes (some moulded by generational divide) ensure the inevitable occurs: a catastrophic fallout.

But do we share a capacity for acceptance, growth and change? Or are our precepts locked and immutable? Bartlett surveys this adroitly with brilliant amplification from the original director, Rupert Goold, who returns alongside most of the original cast.

Whilst the story might be analogous to Brexit Britain and a society rife with division - as sovereignty and a perceived cultural preservation vie with the concept of inclusivity and openness - the analogy is never pushed at the expense of the narrative. As much is gained from reading Albion literally as on any other level.

For better or worse, nostalgia is the order of the day here, viewed as the thing that can make our memories play tricks on us or provide the sentimental glue to bind us back together when our historical relationships hit stormy weather.

Albion is incisive and stirring in its analysis of it. Welcome back.

4/5 stars

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