About Time You Saw: AlbionBy Gilly Hopper
“This is our little piece of the world, and we’re allowed to do with it, exactly as we like. Yes?”
Debuting in 2017, Mike Bartlett’s state-of-the-nation play, Albion, returns to the Almeida for 31 performances. Revived two years after its debut, a lot has shifted since. The UK has departed the EU and the national recalibration has begun.
A family have relocated from London to a grand country home. Presented and received as a superior race – they are Londoners after all – it seems a change in location has brought about a change in social rank too. The lady of the manor, Audrey, in particular, seems to be enjoying the elevation.
Bartlett’s nib renders each character as flawed yet redeemable. Take Audrey, played by Victoria Hamilton. Sharply scoured, Audrey is a sourly, entitled character, play acting “posh”. Hamilton plays to Audrey’s fastidious and curt ways with her elbows (discreetly) out, but as the play progresses, we learn that, for her, manner is not necessarily the same as meaning – though sometimes it is. Perception, in terms of characterisation, is toyed with throughout the play text. Audrey’s partner Paul, for example, is played to pedestrian perfection by Nicholas Rowe – his “vanillaness” masking his kinder attributes.
While Barlett’s style of writing gives actors much to work with, Director Rupert Goold’s manipulation of the unspoken is certainly worthy of praise too. Turning the stage into a home patch to prune and tend, this heartland serves as a “romanticised physical, emotional and temporal place”. Miriam Buether’s horseshoe-shaped set facilitates a planting scene involving a supply chain made up of cast members to pot and plant an English garden. Rose patches – a symbol of surviving the war – later become crowded by poppies – symbols of those who were lost.
The landscape shifts to the war fields where Audrey’s son fought. While Audrey is wedded to the idea that this landscape is a place worth fighting for – and that there is nobility in dying for one’s country –Anna (her son’s former partner) takes a less romantic view. Anna’s grief is given real physicality at the close of Act One. This choreographed, animalistic expression trumps words through primal connectedness.
Throughout the course of the play, swooping themes of race, class, the wealth gap, gender, sexuality and nostalgia, rush in and out, touched on with humour, pathos and thoughtlessness. Moods shift, perceptions alter and memories fade (and then resurface in new forms) but the Almeida’s Albion endures.
Albion runs at the Almeida until 29th February.