25 February 2020

Albion at Almeida Theatre ran out of steam

There is something of a Mike Bartlett meme going on at the moment and while not a devout fan of his I will always be interested in seeing his work because of Charles III. Almeida is not my favourite theatre either but it is good enough and has a habit of putting interesting plays on. What hooked me this time was the simple statement, "Following a sell-out run in 2017, The Telegraph’s "Play of the Year" returns to the Almeida".

As is usual when visiting Almeida (and elsewhere, to be honest) I went for the cheap seats and booked Circle Row A Seat 40 for £20. This was at the far end of one side in a section that is often not open as it is hard to see the back of the stage from there but with the stage flung out into the middle of the auditorium the location was fine.

Also fine was the cafe beforehand. Circumstances meant that it was easier to eat at the theatre than elsewhere and the tomato and dahl was delicious and superb value at £9. The bottle of Pride beer was  fine as a drink but the £5.2 was on the steep side.

Albion, as the name makes clear, is a play about England today as we go through the tumult of Brexit. Here a successful business woman, Audrey Walter, was leaving London (EU) to rebuild her own Little England in the rural countryside.

We had village traditions, Polish workers, a reluctance in some quarters to leave London, and uncertain business conditions. It was Brexit laid bare.

For the first half of the play (one and a half hours) these themes were examined and explored with great effect with a range of characters adding different perspectives as Audrey Walters drove into her project with relentless zeal.

Then the interval; came and, as always, I took the opportunity to have an ice cream.

In most plays if I have been suffering from a little lack of attention in the first half the ice cream stirs me and it gets my full attention in the second. This time, and for the only time that I recall, the opposite happened and I found myself losing attention in the second half. The story progressed little (until the final moments) and I did not see the point of it.

It was still funny at times and still interesting but there was too little progression, too little change, to justify anther hour of much the same. Perhaps I missed something but the second half simply did not work for me. I could gladly have gone home at the interval and been satisfied but having stayed to the end I felt disappointed.

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