Review - Albion at the Almeida Theatre
Director Rupert Goold and playwright Mike Bartlett are well known for delivering theatrical fireworks, both verbal and physical. When they previously joined forces at the Almeida, the result was that exhilarating firecracker of a play about the modern monarchy King Charles III, that went on to West End and Broadway success.
Now they have reunited again for a play in a very different sort of register: a far more low-key, almost Chekhovian drama about a lonely, grieving mother (she recently lost her soldier son in battle) who is at war with the world and trying to find peace in restoring a once-famous country garden to its former glory. Except the clock isn't ever turned back quite so easily: for one thing, the climate today is very different to 100 years ago when this garden was first planted.
But meanwhile the garden of her own life is not so easily managed, either. Her daughter ends up having a relationship with her own best female friend from university who has become a celebrated novelist. And neither is it so easy to replace the elderly husband-and-wife retainers who look after the house and garden with a more efficient Polish worker.
The play takes its time - it runs for three hours - but there's hardly any of the usual shock-and-awe of a Rupert Goold production. Instead, on an Almeida stage that has been re-landscaped (in every sense) with an audience wrapped around it, this quiet yet determined family drama unfolds.
It is graced with an absolutely tremendous set of performances that make it come to fully inhabited life. Victoria Hamilton is brittle but brilliant as the uptight matriarch, clinging to trying to control her family and friendships but failing at both. Nicolas Rowe plays her utterly loyal husband, Charlotte Hope her daughter and Helen Schlesinger her best friend with grace and sensitivity.
The play is deeply felt and tenderly gripping.