Our Young Critics group consist of nine young people who will watch a series of productions both here at the Almeida and across other London venues. They meet fortnightly to discuss their responses to the shows and are then asked to create a review of differing forms.
This is Daniella Harrison's review.
If I was a garden, I think I’d be one with a water feature. A nice garden where the focus is on the feature, but everything else around it is crumbling. The stone wall would be chipped, more weeds than flowers in the beds. It may be a bit messy, but it would still be functional.
I’ve been thinking a lot about gardens after seeing Mike Bartlett’s new play Albion at the Almeida. Mostly because it’s set in a garden: the thrust staging allows the audience to sit around the patch of space Audrey (Victoria Hamilton) is desperate to restore back to its former grandeur. There is a tree with a bench which takes pride of place at the back of centre stage, and around the edges of the stage are flower beds, which are first of all empty but as the seasons change the cast plant flowers in them. We see them doing this between the scenes, set to a stunning soundtrack.
I’ve also been thinking about what gardens represent, particularly within this play. A garden is a piece of land we claim ownership of, our own little world which we create to our own design, and in this play we see how the garden in question impacts each of the characters in the community. Audrey, portrayed spectacularly by Victoria Hamilton, is the mother who has lost her son James, desperate to keep him – and her ideals of Britain – alive through the garden. She is both charming and scathing, delightfully bitchy in act one, but bordering on insanely obsessed in the second act. Obsessed with her garden, she won’t stop thinking about it or changing it, or rather, instructing others to do so. Then there’s Anna (Vinette Robinson), James’ partner, as obsessed with keeping him alive as Audrey is. Unlike Audrey’s pedantic ways, Anna is played much more viscerally. Her dance in the rain, rolling around on the wet grass, covering herself in the mud at the end of act one is visually refreshing, a massive break from the quiet-ish English garden life that had been set up in the act this far. Robinson’s movements and her emotions which radiate from them are pulsing and affecting, and I feel so for her character as we approach the second half. This choice of both form break – leaning towards physical theatre – and the outpouring of rain is an excellent choice from director Rupert Goold, teetering on the edge between naturalistic and something slightly other; perhaps a comment on the themes the play subtly discusses.
Bartlett’s play tackles two main themes through the use of a garden: coping with loss and grief, and anxieties surrounding Britain in a post-Brexit state. The former is quite obvious in the plot itself, and though the latter is subtly woven in, it’s definitely there. Audrey wanting her garden to be exactly like the past and her obsession with village life are key reminders of people’s attitudes towards the UK. There’s also the inclusion of a Polish cleaner, Krystyna (Edyta Budnik), who appears to threaten Cheryl’s (Margot Leicester) job, having been the cleaner of the house for what seems like a lifetime. There’s discussion of old and young, as well as how much and hard people are willing to work here, which begs to be explored more. However, it is a small part in a giant opera of a play, and I feel if it was extended any further, then the show would feel as if it ramming particular politics down your throat, which is cleverly doesn’t in its current state. It is instead politically subtle, and allows you to interpret Audrey and the garden as you see fit, rather than presenting her as a specifically ‘good’, or ‘bad’ character.
If Albion was a garden, it would have grass, trimmed neatly, carefully placed and cared about. But there’d also be a few small buds and flowers hiding in the grass, waiting for you to pay attention to them and really look at them and see them for what they are.
Daniella Harrison is 20 and a student at Queen Mary University.