The first thing we encounter stepping into the auditorium of the Reginald Theatre for a performance of Mike Bartlett’s Albion is Monique Langford’s set design conjuring England’s green and pleasant land. Loads of turf and lashings of leaves and a huge trunk of a tree in the far right corner. A well kept garden tended by faithful retainer, Matthew, who opens the show raking crisp and curly leaves, the deciduous debris heralding winter. This may be viewed as a metaphor as Matthew represents the autumn of an era. If so, is Audrey the hint of Spring?
Invested with a nostalgia for the past as the present isn’t all that pleasing, having lost her son, James, to an unpopular war, Audrey, chief of a chain of retailers and in her 55th year, has pulled up stumps in her London pad and stumped up for a rustic pile. Matthew was groundsman for the previous owners and his wife, Cheryl, was cleaner. They have both been retained by Audrey but Cheryl, due largely to ill health, is not as efficient, and Audrey replaces her with Polish emigrant, Krystyna.
Along for the adventure is Paul, Audrey’s second spouse, and Zara, her daughter from her first marriage. Zara is not well pleased with the relocation, a twenty three year old aspiring writer uprooted from the vibrancy of London to the sticks. Zara is easily seduced by her mum’s old chum, Katherine, a famous author, which causes quite a splinter, which is added to the thorn in Audrey’s side, namely Anna, James’ girlfriend, who demands familial rights and plots posthumous paternity.
Audrey soon discovers that country life is not all jodhpurs and riding boots, croquet lawns and tea parties and that reclaiming the past can be a costly business, in terms of both money and emotion.
Albion gives us a real family, capricious, irresponsible humans in a mess. Zara craves a comforting, cradling cuddle from her mum but gets a stiff upper lip, chin up, best foot forward response. Friendships rift, families rupture, but there will always be an England, Rule Britannia, and all that jingoistic jazz.
Estrangement, restoration, reformation, patriotism, pragmatism, parenting and postmortem progeny are the pillars of the saga, an epic sprawling tale that begs comparison to The Cherry Orchard in a good and positive way.
In a fine ensemble of actors, two characterisations absolutely command the stage. Joanna Briant as Audrey and Emma Wright as Krystyna, the Polish entrepreneur – “I am not a cleaner, I am a business woman.”
Briant is the beating, driving heart of the piece, ever present but pulled to the past. Seemingly deaf and blind to those outside which makes her character funny and appalling. Wright, too, is ever present, but with a focus on the future. Both sharp as a tack in motivation and delivery.
Among the males, Charles Mayer is languorously louche and lay-back as Audrey’s loving second husband whose only ambition is to make and keep his wife happy.
Now there’s something to be applauded.
Secret House, New Ghosts Theatre Company and Seymour Centre present
by Mike Bartlett
Director Lucy Clements
Venue: Seymour Centre | Cnr City Rd and Cleveland St, Chippendale NSW
Dates: 27 July – 13 August 2022
Tickets: $49 – $39