‘Albion’ review - Gardening play celebrates the beautiful now
Mike Bartlett’s Albion is a tender tale about confronting reality. Reprising her 2017 role, The Crown’s Victoria Hamilton flourishes as Audrey Walters, a stubborn protectionist who decides to spruce up a back garden to establish a sense of purpose - “a house to dream of and a garden to dream in”, she proclaims. Comically concealing aggression in posh niceties, Audrey’s mask is the most fascinating when it falters, revealing fragile emotions underneath the surface as she faces the truth about her life.
The rest of the company also have their own realisations across the three hour long production. Dónal Finn is a master of comedic timing as window cleaner and budding writer Gabriel, while Helen Schlesinger’s sage author Katherine has a delicate air to her as an older woman coming to terms with later life and reminiscing on her youth. Elsewhere, widow Anna (Angel Coulby) bothers Audrey with her long journey on the five stages of grief, as a character who is very much stuck in denial and shows no sign of accepting her loss.
It is a theme of acceptance which is particularly striking in a mordern political climate which feels all too intolerant. Audrey’s need to have ownership - be it over environments in the form of Miriam Buether’s intricately designed garden set, or over her daughter Zara (Daisy Edgar-Jones) – is a fascinatingly indecisive, and poetically reflected in Rebecca Frecknall’s movement direction. In times of vitriolic conversation, we see Audrey move closer to others, yet when her true feelings are risk of surfacing, she becomes distant. The transitioning between the brash and the heartfelt is remarkably smooth in nature, performed by Hamilton in a way which is simply stunning to watch.
Returning to the Almeida after its first run in 2017, Bartlett’s ‘Brexit play’ will no doubt unearth new ideas now that we’ve actually left. While the themes of acceptance and ownership feel as current as ever, the playwright’s desire to transcend the text with metaphors on the redistribution of wealth and democratisation of land reduces eloquent dialogue to soundbites and political shoehorning. Albion is instead more striking in its handling of the contemporary, examining the past and present in all its tragedy and beauty.