Albion is Bartlett’s answer to both the English country house and the state-of-the-nation play. Broadly, it follows a family unit - matriarch Audrey, her passive husband Paul and her newly-graduated daughter Zara - as they swap their leafy suburban Muswell Hill for the titular rural country estate. In other words, it’s Stoppard meets meets Chekov on a particularly moody morning.
Fundamentally, Albion is about a nostalgia for something that was never felt; for an ideal of a country garden which has only been seen in pictures, for a son being laid to rest in an act of remembrance he never believed in. And so, it’s also about national identity and grief and preservation and mourning and Britishness and cultural memory and class and xenophobia and, actually, thematically it works. The Br*xit parallels write themselves and – in a theatrical landscape which they already oversaturate - thankfully, Bartlett delegates that job to subtext.
For all of the nobility of its social mission, Albion does still feel like a play about women written by men. Bartlett’s inclusion of a subplot of a relationship between Audrey’s 23-year-old daughter and 53-year-old (female) friend raises both eyebrows and questions. A young woman (quote, unquote) discovers herself, as an older lesbian preys upon her: it’s an overtired and lesbophobic story that we’ve seen before, and one with stubborn staying power. It feels like a shorthand for something loosely scandalous and viscerally unsettling.
Turning from thematics to scenographics, amidst a largely very naturalistic script, there are moments of Goold and Bartlett’s signature form-bending brilliance. The garden is replanted and gutted in gorgeously choreographed hyperextended scene changes, with gorgeously subtle lighting from Neil Austin.
All in all, Albion, though not without its problematics, reads as a subtle and creeping and itchy dissection of the contemporary British human condition; a tongue-in-cheek horror story of quintessential Britishness.
Won’t be to everyone’s taste.
But a good play.