Audrey Walters, a successful businesswoman played by the indomitable Victoria Hamilton, moves from Muswell Hill to the rural Albion house. With the goal of resuscitating the estate’s garden, what was once a paragon of English design, she brings tenacity as well as trowel in hand. Her 23-year old daughter Zara (Charlotte Hope), her husband Paul (Nicholas Rowe), and the partner of her deceased son Anna (Vinette Robinson) all adapt to this new terrain.
The thrust-stage garden contains all the action, with one great tree hanging overhead in Miriam Buether’s straightforward but nevertheless evocative design. Long, stylized and ritualistic set changes depict the garden’s growth and complement the otherwise dialogue-led and naturalistic scenes.
Bartlett uses the garden as a clear and fecund metaphor for post-Brexit nation. Audrey’s passion for the garden, a national project as she sees it, jars with the community’s longstanding tradition of holding events on the estate. But the garden metaphor also moves from the populace to the personal, exploring motherhood and grief as well.
In the most Goold-esque moment, Robinson’s Anna becomes overwhelmed and tries in desperation to fill her grief, with the haunting image of her lost lover, crashing thunder, and music around her. The moment defies what has come before and suggests a second half that might further break the conventions of the piece.
However, the second half returns to the naturalism of the first, and languishes slightly in its vitality. Goold is an extremely articulate director, and no point of the three-hour evening drags, but the subject matter starts to turn in on itself in less and less interesting ways. While all characters are given a certain complexity, some like Krystyna (Edyta Budnik), the young Polish entrepreneur who cleans the estate, seem more like add-ons to fully encompass the metaphor than they do fully realised individuals.
But the performances are spectacular. Hamilton is truly mesmerising, and offers hauntingly vulnerable moments that snap to sour stings instantly. And Helen Schlesinger as Katherine Sanchez, famous author and Audrey’s long-time friend, is headstrong and brisk as she falls in love with Zara. The entire cast beautifully demonstrate Bartlett’s strength at writing rich, taut, and poignant dialogue.
Albion may not be a smashing triumph like Charles III, it is still perceptive, poignant, and brilliantly performed, and offers a rich evocation of a nation at odds with itself.
|What||Albion, Almeida Theatre review|
|Where||Almeida Theatre, Almeida Street, Islington, London, N1 1TA | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
10 Oct 17 – 24 Nov 17, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
|Price||£10 - £48|
|Website||Click here to book via the Almeida Theatre|