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Albion: Almeida Theatre

November 8, 2017

(seen at the afternoon performance on 4th November 2017).

There will for sure be a slew of plays about “Brexit.” One will stand out as definitive – and I’ve a feeling it won’t be written for at least a decade, at which point something dry, rueful, reflective and balanced should win the day. Meanwhile, this allegory, set in an English Country Garden, fires the starting gun for the respected modern writers.

Mike Bartlett dips into the stereotypes folder (the best line in the play is a clever acknowledgement) and gives us a wealthy shop magnate and her husband moving from London to the country village of her memories an hour outside, much to 23 year old publishing-work-experience daughter’s chagrin. In tow is the “partner” of deceased soldier son. Waiting for them are the long-serving yokel couple of the house, young student writer neighbour and a Polish cleaning entrepreneur. Naturally, the incomers have ambitious plans, and conflict follows as they reject local ways.

For a play about gardening, the first observation is that there’s around 20 minutes of undergrowth worth hacking away. The first two scenes drag, and two interminable “planting / unplanting” (it’s a word, well, it is now) sequences are possibly director Robert Goold’s biggest error.

That said, much of the three hours is fairly engaging – Miriam Buether’s thrust stage garden set, with live border, ensuring audiences have a voyeuristic relationship with the action.

Acting honours are evenly split between the senior and junior members of the company. Victoria Hamilton (Audrey Walters) is a credible businesswoman with drive but little time for social niceties. Helen Schlesinger (Katherine Sanchez) outdoes her, particularly in her first scene, as an old author friend whose loneliness is masked by eccentricity. There’s sound work, too, from Margot Walters (Cheryl) and Christopher Fairbank (Matthew) an utterly believable working couple.

Down a generation, ambitious cleaner Edyta Budnik (Krystyna) has a wonderful energy and stage presence. Luke Thallon (Gabriel) makes an empathetic gawky, trembling window-cleaner / writer / student impressed by Sara (Charlotte Hope), who gives a disdainful youngster some colour by the end of the evening – trickier than it sounds. Vinette Robinson as widowed Anna makes the best of an unforgiving act 1 climax, displaying an expert sense of timing and rhythm.

There are elements of preaching in this, some uncomfortable swipes at those lower down the ladders of wealth, power, education and even motivation – without regard to opportunity costs. Ideas are either flagged or left under-developed, with plotlines sometimes feeling like off-shoots that could have been pruned.

That said, it’s all recognisable enough as a setting out of questions regarding the relationship between ownership of our past at personal and national levels, and how that should carry forward to the future.

Seeds have been planted, and I will be interested to see how, in the coming years, this particular garden of theatrical themes blooms.

 

4 stars.

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