“The fantasy that brings the reality into being”
As Mike Bartlett’s profile grows and grows, one can’t help but fear that his TV successes will lead to movie commissions but for the moment, he’s not forgotten where he started and with Albion, there’s a ferocious reminder of how theatrically skilled he is. Additionally, there’s one of the performances of the year from Victoria Hamilton so I’d hotfoot it to the Almeida now, there’s no guarantee this one will transfer.
Successful businesswoman Audrey has her world rocked when her son is killed on duty in the Middle East and so she decides to retreat to the countryside, rural Oxfordshire to be precise, where she buys the neglected home of her uncle, along with its once-impressive garden. But what first seems like a fun restoration project snowballs into chaos as her increasingly ambitious plans threaten to push everyone close to her away.
Self-obsessed and domineering, Audrey is a terrible person but Bartlett and Hamilton ground her in the bewildering fug of extreme grief so even in her worst moments, you never lose sight of the person was/is/still could be. And she’s surrounded by a crack ensemble from her writer daughter (Charlotte Hope) to her best friend (Helen Schlesinger), her son’s grieving ex (Vinette Robinson) to the retainers who have long served the property (Margot Leicester and Christopher Fairbank), all of whom she alienates one way or another.
In the rich depth of Bartlett’s writing, the Chekhovian allusions are stronger than the Brexit parallels, the turbulent complexities of family life more fruitful ground than the analysis of recent English history. But it is also unexpectedly spikily funny and Rupert Goold’s production further elevates this probing play with a stunning (re)design by Miriam Buether, full of shrubbery and surprises.