Review: The Comeuppance, Almeida Theatre

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins doesn’t quite live up to expectations with The Comeuppance at the Almeida Theatre

“I think people will think it is funny
Maybe it is a little conceptual”

With the likes of An Octoroon, Gloria and Appropriate under his belt, the air of expectation around a new Branden Jacobs-Jenkins can’t help but be set at a certain level, thems the rules as unfair as they may be. So when I say I wasn’t particularly overwhelmed by The Comeuppance, which has just opened at the Almeida Theatre, it’s with the acknowledgement that it is his own very high standard that hasn’t been met (IMHO).

This 2023 play takes that well-work trope of a high school reunion and puts a BJJ spin on it. Five 30-somethings have gathered to pre-game before heading on over to their alma mater some 20 years after they left. Between them, there’s unhappy marriages, serious illness, PTSD, major job dissatisfaction and more besides so they’ve plenty to talk about. And since there has to be a spin, Death is also present as a conceptual figure who possesses them all in turn to deliver personalised monologues.

A lot of things bubble with potential in the script – the different ways in which Death has impacted them all seemingly building to a climax, the hugeness of the events that have shaped the three decades of their existence (Columbine, 9/11, the insurrection, economic crises, COVID-19…). And Eric Ting’s well-cast production, playing out in the realism of Arnulfo Maldonado’s porch-centric set, has moments of simmering charge as secrets and revelations start to tumble out.

Ultimately though, not a lot actually happens. Death turns out to be all talk and no trousers and for all that this group has gone through, too little comes of it to merit the two-hours-straight-through of the production. Despite this, Anthony Welsh and Tamara Lawrance are good, with Ferdinand Kingsley making a real impact alongside Yolanda Kettle and Katie Leung, but since Death speaks with a reverb and a whole scene is delivered through a mobile phone, there’s some serious audibility issues which further detract from the whole shebang.

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