Reviewer's ratinge

Playwright Mike Bartlett and director Rupert Goold collaborate again to bring Albion back to the Almeida, just a few years after it premiered there in 2017. As in Bartlett’s 2014 play, King Charles III, Albion draws upon issues of the current political moment, in this case the polarisation of British society following the EU referendum. Bartlett’s choice to use an archaic term for Britain as the title of his play indicates the importance of the recurring theme of the old and the new.

The play centres on a middle-class London family who relocate to an old estate in rural Oxfordshire. Under the matriarchal direction of Audrey Walters (Victoria Hamilton), the garden is to be renovated as a memorial for her son who was killed in combat in Afghanistan. But Audrey’s ambitions for the garden speak to a larger purpose of restoring old ideals and a yearning for seemingly simpler times. Audrey hopes that the garden can become ‘something of national importance’ and set a standard for the rest of the country. We see the return to traditional values promised as a solution to the problems of today.

Albion also treats a sense of deepening cultural division between London and the rest of the country. The differences between Audrey’s cosmopolitan family and the labouring locals is evident in their accents, clothing and outlook. While Audrey reveres the idea of a traditional life in the country, she clearly feels superior to the locals and their menial jobs. A more obvious instance of class contempt comes from Audrey’s friend and member of the artistic elite, Katherine Sanchez (Helen Schlesinger), who blames ‘small minded’ people for the rise of a dangerous populist politics.

Victoria Hamilton and Angel Coulby deliver strong performances in their respective roles as the mother and girlfriend of the dead soldier. Anna is fragile and completely devastated by her boyfriend’s death, while Audrey grapples with her grief by maintaining a militaristic tough facade.

Finally, Albion draws on the housing crisis to portray generational divisions. When the estate is sold, older characters lament the loss of beauty in the division of the land into small and ugly flats, but Audrey’s 20-odd year old daughter, Zara (Daisy Edgar-Jones), sees this development solely as a matter of necessity. Albion concludes as a vigorous production which cleverly captures the climate of post-referendum Britain, leaving the audience with plenty to reflect on.