BBC CULTURE IN QUARANTINE 2020
ALMEIDA THEATRE 2017 & 2020
Writer: Mike Bartlett
Director: Rupert Goold
Cast: Audrey - Victoria Hamilton; Katherine - Helen Schlesinger; Paul - Nicholas Rowe
With accolades galore from its first fun in 2017, Albion returns to the Almeida bringing most of the original cast. If Victoria Hamilton as Audrey delivers the same breathtaking performance as before, this is set to be another triumph.
With her 23-year-old daughter and second husband, Audrey, a successful business woman in her 50s, leaves cosmopolitan London and returns to her late uncle’s grand house in the bucolic English countryside. She is visited by her recently deceased son’s partner and her oldest friend from university, now a renowned author.
Audrey is tough and single-minded in her determination to restore the house's gardens to the lost splendour of her childhood and commemorate her beloved son. She is prepared to ride rough-shod over any one who tries to stop her: relatives, friends and villagers.
It is this idea of Albion – Britain in times past – that underlines the play. This is explored through the polarisation of the characters, the reactionary protagonist, and a liberal triumvirate: author, daughter and fiance. One yearns for the rose-tinted past; the others are sceptical. Audrey seeks refuge in the countryside, the others look to the Capital for meaning and life, with the familiar refrain of the three sisters in Chekhov's play who longed to go to Moscow, they long to go to London.
Victoria Hamilton performs Audrey with conviction and captivates the audience throughout this demanding play. Whilst the characters are absorbing and excellently portrayed by a recognisable cast, they are, however, compromised by the stereotype. Audrey delivers anachronisms on preserving the ”real” England, reminiscent of a Tory candidate in the eighties. The Polish cleaner is a hard worker (because she’s Polish?) and the old housekeeper is lazy (because she’s rural English?). The close friend and writer is an older (wiser?) lesbian (predatory?). And so, it continues.
Mike Bartlett’s attempt to write for a variety of female characters is ambitious and at times this can feel observational. But with such actors, the women come alive and this is some feat.
“It is Audrey’s rage and grief (grueling to witness) that is sustained until the end and will deservedly win Hamilton many ovations.”
The first half of the play is energetic and gripping, resulting in a climax of excellent SFX – full marks for set design by Miriam Buether. The drive fizzles in the second half as the supporting characters repeat their themes and wane in significance. It is Audrey’s rage and grief (grueling to witness) that is sustained until the end and will deservedly win Hamilton many ovations.
Albion @ Almeida Theatre