6 October 2014

Albion at Bush Theatre was another fun night at a fun theatre


The Bush Theatre, because of its proximity, atmosphere and my previous good experiences there, is one of the three theatres where the default is that I will go and see every play there and I need a reason not to. The other two are the Orange Tree and the Arcola, with Theatre503 close to joining them.

Albion was a case in point. It looked mildly interesting but I would probably have skipped it if it had been on elsewhere, though the presence of Natalie Casey (Two Pints ...) was obviously a strong pull.

Before showtime was fairly typical for my visits to the Bush; a train back from work in Reading, a quick hop on the tube from Paddington to Shepherd's Bush, something to eat in the cafe/bar area, a coffee to go with it, and then a pint to take in to the theatre.

Also typical was the shambolic queueing system where people mill around the bar, box office and entrance to the toilets and so get in the way of the people trying to use those. Any movement away to somewhere more sensible is discouraged as that leaves gaps for queue-jumpers to fill. And there are queue-jumpers at the Bush. They either need to move the queue to where it can be managed or issue numbered tickets and then admit people in groups, as the Union Theatre does.

Despite the shambolic queueing, I was in to the theatre early enough to get a front-row seat to the left of the stage. At least with seating on three sides there was a lot of front-row to fight over and most of the people before me preferred the centre block, even though you can see more from the sides.

The Bush is one of those theatres that is rather zealous over photography and always has several people in the theatre to enforce the rule, for reasons that escape me, and I was unable to take a decent shot with my proper camera; the best I could do was this discrete shot with my ageing iPhone4.

As can be seen, the stage was set as a bar, though it also became offices, a bedroom and a street at various points. On the right is the raised area where the karaoke was held and off to the right, not pictured, was a sunken area with a pool table. People were playing pool as we went in thus continuing the modern fashion of having actors on stage before the formal start of the performance. The woman won much to the man's surprise, and her's too.

Albion took us into the world of the angry working-class in the East End of London (Tower Hamlets to be precise) where a burgeoning right-wing party was getting some traction with a mixed group of disenfranchised people.

There was a lot more to Albion than just the NF/BNP/EDL story and there were several closely interwoven strands to the plot. One of the group's main people was openly gay and had a secret relationship with a man of Asian origin (not the sort of person welcomed by his group), his sister was in the Army stationed in Afghanistan and a social worker (Natalie) was (probably justifiably) the scapegoat for a child abuse case.

Karaoke played a significant part in all this and, technically, that made it a musical. The singing happened at several key moments in the story and it was usually one character telling us how they felt through the sort of sort that you would expect to hear at a Karaoke evening, songs like I Will Survive and Eye of the Tiger. It could have been cheesy but it wasn't, in fact it worked very well, not least because we knew all the songs.

The stories progressed unpredictably with humour, violence, love and confrontation. It flit between the various stories in a way that I suspect that soap operas do, though it has been many a year since I watched one (is Hilda Ogden still in Corrie?).

The right-wing politics came to the fore from time-to-time but the play was more about the many characters and their interactions, these were often highly emotional, moving from one extreme to another. You could see why some people have Love and Hate tattooed on their fingers, these people's lives were thick with both.

Albion was a highly charged and fast-paced drama that whizzed and fizzed and paused occasionally for a song.

After the show I had a chance word with Natalie (which I had to wait quite a while for!) and I was pleased that she remembered that we had spoken a few years earlier at the Orange Tree when she was also seeing a show there. I also had an unexpected chance word with the leader of the far-right group, Paul (played very well by Steve John Shepherd), who I found later lurking at Hammersmith Station. His was the main character and his portrayal gave the play its backbone.

Albion was good and all the nice things wrapped around it made the evening a lot of fun.

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