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Review: Albion, at Almeida Theatre

20 October, 2017 — By Howard Loxton

Victoria Hamilton in Albion. Photo: Marc Brenner

THE raised green lawn of a country house garden thrusts between the Almeida audience, shadowed by a big tree. It belongs to country house called Albion.

Former owner Mr Wetherby, wounded at Ypres, created this section of his iconic garden in memory of those comrades who didn’t come back. Businesswoman Audrey Walters, who came here as a child, now owns Albion and has a passion to restore the badly neglected garden. She too has lost a soldier, her son James, recently blown up in the Middle East. It is a garden where ghosts seem to hover, still in uniform.

Mike Bartlett’s new play focuses on Mrs Walters’ difficult relationships with her daughter, a noted novelist friend, her son’s bereaved lover, neighbours and staff. She doesn’t handle them well and Victoria Hamilton cleverly shows the cracks beneath her confidence and sophistication even before Helen Schlesinger’s novelist tells her some home truths.

The play questions hanging onto the past and its values, what friendship and love mean, poses private interest against duty to the community and raises the rights of those who invest their lives in caring for things they don’t own. The play’s title suggests an analogy but this is never heavy handed. It is the personal stories that make it engrossing as the drama escalates to an explosion of emotion in a thunderstorm, passionately played by Vinette Robinson as James’s lover, Anna.

This isn’t the only scene in which director Robert Gould risks pitching into melodramatic excess but it is judged perfectly.

He has drawn some fine performances from his cast. The play has many moments of humour but Hamilton froze one laugh dead with her concentration of feeling, adding extra irony.

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