Review: Albion, Almeida Theatre - Victoria Hamilton is superb as the complex if unlikeable Audrey
Audrey (Victoria Hamilton) in Mike Bartlett's play Albion, is exactly the sort of towney that country-folk hate.
She's sold her London house and bought a pile with a historically significant garden in a small village and sees locals as a source of menial labour rather than a community.
Her first move is to close the garden to all but her own select gatherings, shutting out the village and the traditional events held there.
It's not the worst thing about Audrey. She is self-centred, controlling and leaves people in no doubt how she feels.
Searching for purpose
What you learn about Audrey during the play is that her obnoxious behaviour is in part protectionism. She is actually wracked with grief, searching for solid ground, for purpose and somewhere to pull loved ones close and not let go.
Does it make her actions, her interfering and treatment of people forgivable?
Audrey is also representative of rose-tinted nostalgia for England and Englishness - and blind patriotism.
There is more than one person around to point out the hypocrisy.
Audrey doesn't arrive alone. She's dragged her daughter Zara (Daisy Edgar-Jones) away from her life in London and patient, put-upon second husband Paul (Nicholas Rowe) suffers in silence.
Source of humour
The latter's self-deprecating, deadpan remarks are a regular source of humour and his unquestioning loyalty to his wife is admirable if not wholly understandable.
He is one of a smattering of nice people in the play. Gabriel (Dónal Finn) is the gentle local lad trying to earn money for university; Cheryl (Margot Leicester) and Matthew (Geoffrey Freshwater) almost come with the house, having long taken care of the cleaning and gardening for previous owners.
The main voice of reason is Audrey's former University friend Katherine (Helen Schlesinger) a successful novelist who is honest but with a gentler approach.
Thorn in the side
A thorn in Audrey's side (aside from Cheryl's slow pace of work) is Anna (Angel Coulby) her late son's grieving girlfriend whom she doesn't understand or particularly want around.
While each of the main characters has a solid arc it is Anna who is the most difficult character to fathom. Her emotions and behaviour are distinct to the point of disturbing but there isn't enough 'back story' to properly explain or understand it.
It is the only weak spot in an otherwise meaty, emotional and funny play with a superb Hamilton drawing out the complexity of Audrey, even if you don't feel sorry for her.
I'm giving Albion ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.
The play is 3 hours and 5 minutes with one interval and is at the Almeida Theatre until 29 February.
You might also like to read:
My review of the first production of Albion from 2017 (I haven't looked for comparison).
Review: Daniel Radcliffe and Alan Cumming in Endgame, Old Vic Theatre
From the archive: Sir Trevor Nunn talks about Ben Whishaw's Hamlet