Words by Ben Ayaydin
I went into Albion with an open mind and little information about the plot except that it was set in an English garden. Part of me was expecting something similar to an episode of the Archers, depicting typical English country life, however I was wrong.
I really enjoyed Albion. The characters were all unique with their own identities, the set was simple yet very immersive (especially with the stone work of the Almeida Theatre as a backdrop) and the plot was thought provoking with the various themes presented reflected in today’s society.
First of all, let me discuss the set. The choice of having one set (the garden) as a focal point for the plot was a simple but effective decision. The subtle lighting added effect to this, reflecting the time of day and weather which added to the audience’s experience of the play. Even something as mundane as changing the set to reflect the season was handled very well and to great effect which became an interesting feature, credit to the director Rupert Goold.
The plot was written by Mike Bartlett, the same man who wrote the critically acclaimed King Charles III. I enjoyed the fact that every character had their own ambition at the start of the play and that by the end, all of their dreams and aspirations had fallen to pieces. This was an admirable decision which does not shy away from the harsh reality that life presents today; instead, it moves away from the ‘happily ever after’ endings that are heavily prevalent in many films and plays at the moment. Furthermore, there was a strong theme of ‘holding on’, whether that was to character morals, tradition, the past or family. This theme I feel links well with the events in today’s society, especially in the current political climate of Brexit and Trump. Many of the scenes and events were very raw and powerful depicted through various lighting and sound designs. In particular, the scene where Zara is being ‘exposed to the elements’ is very captivating. Having said this, there was one moment in this scene when Zara is rolling around on the ground that drew me out of the emersion and felt out of place very out of place. To me, it felt as if it was some sort of ‘interpretive dance’ and speaking to a few others, it seemed we shared this experience.
Moreover, the cast all had strong performances with Victoria Hamilton absolutely stunning in her role as Audrey Walters. Despite Hamilton’s performance, the character of Audrey had me constantly in conflict with myself. I went from liking her upper-class slander to despising her attitudes to others (in particular her attitude to her best friend Katherine), through to loving her comedic values and then to hating the decisions she made. The constantly fluctuating demeanours applied to many of the characters, whose decisions I found questionable and frustrating. Particularly, the character of Zara (played by Charlotte Hope), who made choices that made me question the character’s sanity or logical reasoning.
Nevertheless, Albion was a great play and I would highly recommend it to anyone, even solely on the basis of Victoria Hamilton’s performance. Just do not go in expecting a rendition of the idyllic country life of the Archers!
Photo Credit: Marc Brenner