This show finished on Saturday 14 October 2023, and this page is being kept for archival purposes only.
Loss and longing haunt this state-of-the-nation play which focuses on a mother mourning her son by returning to her childhood home in the hope of restoring the former glory of its beautiful garden, Albion.
This Chekovian-inspired drama presents the decline of the romanticised ideal of our nation, through the central figure of Audrey, who loses everything in her attempt to restore the past. How much is she willing to sacrifice to honour the dead? Her daughter? Her husband? Her oldest friend? Her son’s partner? The entire village?
Actor (Anna) Isabella Caron
Actor (Audrey) Ellie Moore
Actor (Gabriel) Benny Harrison
Actor (Katherine) Anastasia Joyce
Actor (Krystyna) Karolina Pavlikova
Actor (Matthew) Ted Ackery
Actor (Paul) Amiran Antadze
Actor (Zara) Orly Benn
Co-Producer Lara Searle
Co-Producer Gemima Iseka-Bekano
Costume Manager Carmen Harkness
Director Conor Quinn
Intimacy Coordinator Tazy Harrison-Moore
Set Assistant Louis Handley
Set Manager Freya White
Sound Designer Martha Barrow
Stage Manager Emily Richards
Tech Manager/Lighting Designer Freya Game
Friday 13 October - By Dominic Corr for Corr Blimey
Blossoming, in time, Mike Bartlett’s Albion magnifies grief in this state-of-the-nation piece that translates the death of a son into the death of a nation. A nuanced piece, one tricky to capture the shades and tones of each character’s misery and displaced fears of the course the world spins, Bedlam Theatre take on this lengthy show in their first major production of the season under the helm of Conor O’Cuinn. And though weeds present themself, with seeds cast early into the production, what grows is an articulate and sombre production which draws Bartlett’s already contemporary work to the forefront as it tries to root out the roses of hope from the enormous trees of the past.
The brutality of war shapes the stern and unyielding land of all. And after the loss of her son James, Audrey buries their grief. It’s one of the few horrific events which can impact both the poor and wealthy – death. No amount of influence, money or poise can bring James back. Hoping to recapture the son (and by extension her nation’s glory days), Audrey retreats to the one realm they have an ounce of control left: their childhood home. Specifically, the vast gardens which back onto the house, left in the care of Matthew, the local gardener and anchor to the past for the home. Lost in their world, failing to transition from their past to relish the life they still have, Audrey fails to see the woes of the rest of her family; her new husband Paul (played with a blinder of comedy by Amiran Antadze, James’ partner Anna, and Audrey’s daughter – Zara.
A thorny study of pride, passing and patriotism, Albion is as much a piece on familial grief as it is national. As the middle class of London continue to extend their financial garden homes across the countryside, the seduction of the old, the nostalgic, is just as toxic as the refusal to move on and accept grief. The Chekov inspirations cannot be escaped with the likes of Zara or Gabriel (a local boy and window washer), so props to O’Cuinn and team for embracing this, running with it rather than attempting to widen a diversion. But while, thematically, Albion strays into other writing, Orly Benn and Benny Harrison’s performances are entirely their own.
Almost petulant, Benn’s Zara stands on the precipice of a new world – but still strikes a passion for the old. Conflicted, Benn plays the role understated to avoid melodrama and remain grounded, while Harrison’s Gabriel is so charmingly pleasant in the initial act, that come the finale the audience would likely commit anything to see him smile again.
In character-laden scenes where much, occasionally the entire, cast stands together witnessing the drama unfold, there’s a dip in momentum as a few cast members seem unsure of where to look, and how to react to the characters spilling their dirty laundry in front of them. It’s only an issue in the early-stage son the first act, as Bartlett’s heavy exposition sets the remainder of the narrative, and by the first act conclusion – it’s almost forgotten with the intense, and frankly amatory, explosion of choreographed movement, with props to Bedlam for Tazy Harrison-Moore’s intimacy coordination.
There’s one guarantee with Beldam Theatre’s mainstage productions throughout the year – the inventive use of space. From make-shift idealistic American homes, steaming piles of compost, and enough carpentry to start a crafts fair, Albion continues this trend – though initially is one of the more reserved and straightforwardly framed productions. With some of the audience on stage and a gangway walk thrusting into the audience, the potted plants and use of hidden spaces demonstrate a canny grasp of physical and visual storytelling from O’Cuinn’s direction and Freya White’s set design.
Set principally in the garden, under the watchful eye of an enormous tree, initially, even the vines and blossoming roses adorning the pillars and rigs are inconsequential, but as Freya Game’s lighting begins to unfurl and illuminate the garden as its presence shifts to the forefront, suddenly the entire space breaths a sense of light – reaching a magnificently atmospheric climax with lighting flashes and starlit canopies. And Ellie Moore utilises every element to their advantage, turning in a strikingly prominent lead role as Audrey.
Moore’s presence is already one of a leading performer. There’s no question about this. Their prominent and forthcoming performance propels them to the audience’s forefront and well into the back of the theatre space. Their position and posture communicate as clearly as their delivery which always hints at the grief beneath, but commands a stern upper lip. There are a few more erratic movements which stand out, but less so due to Moore’s character choice, and more the limited movements of others. They meet their match in a few other characters, principally that of Anastasia Joyce’s Katherine, a long-time friend of Audrey, now the partner of her daughter Zara carried with a definitive sense of authority, a person playing chess while their fumble with checkers.
Reserved, broken, and the antithesis of Moore’s enlarged and bolstered presence, Isabella Caron has the tricky task of standing out while wasting away in doldrums and mourning. But their agency is felt throughout, striking a delicate balance in wall flowering out of immediacy, but not out of sight – it’s commendable. Their movement works with Nash Norgaard Morton in ferociously powerful levels, who doubles as a few roles, with a notable physicality as one important role – bringing a much-needed injection to the act one finale.
And as always, even the more minor roles, played by Karolina Pavlikova, Ted Ackery and make as significant an impact as any principal character as Krystyna (a cleaner, originally from Slovakia) gardener Matthew and the original cleaner/housekeeper Cheryl, who further the narrative threads of a changing national dynamic, and a ‘pruning’ of generations.
Gardens are the most sickeningly accurate, if overused, symbolism throughout playwrighting and literature. But one can’t blame the thousands of adages which littler the language, they’re bloody accurate. In their vast garden, pampered and lovingly cared for like the son they lost, Audrey’s refusal to lay their grief into the dirt and grow anew is as pertinent as those who cling to the ideals of patriotism and the little gardens of England. In staging Albion, Bedlam furrows the earth and creatively nurtures a production which paces itself into full bloom. It’s touching and beautiful, if painfully astute. If audiences can look past the shadows of nationalism in Bartlett’s dense script, they will find a pocket of well-captured roses of performance, set utilisation, and understanding of the text.
Thursday 19 October - By Agnes Perry-Robinson for The Student
There is a natural intimacy with domestic plays that allows for an almost guilty feeling of involvement. Bedlam Theatre’s production of Mike Bartlett’s Albion goes one step further, as audience and stage are separated by a single row of flowerbeds. It is almost as if we become the garden that the play revolves around, the sacred Eden laid out in half a dozen rows of red seats. The cast digs around at our feet grappling for something lost in the soil that we cannot help them find. That something lost is how to deal with the death of a loved one, as the characters navigate the sudden death of their beloved James and its psychological repercussions. This is a slow and painful waltz with grief, as the lights dim and Elgar’s ‘For the Fallen’ echoes around Bedlam church, and both audience and actors take their places for this miserable dance.
Directed by Connor Quinn, the production is one of true devastation, Quinn’s mastery lying in his flawless choreography of raw human emotion. Quinn’s female characters are the deafening pulse beneath the production, their varied control of different aspects of the female experience the underlying genius behind Albion. Ellie Moore’s performance as the uptight Audrey, who manages her White Company-esque empire and useless but loveable husband Paul (Amiran Antadze) with the same dictatorial vigour, is a real delight to watch. Dealing with her son James’ death, Moore captures grief and motherhood all at once with tremendous agility and with a real sensitivity that pays homage to the cadence of Mike Bartlett’s script.
Moore dominates the stage with a truly unabashed confidence that is absolutely mesmerising.
Audrey meets her match in the grieving girlfriend Anna (Isabella Caron), and Caron’s haunting and unhinged performance acts as a wonderful contrast. Moore and Caron battle for the role of chief mourner, their relationship startlingly abrasive yet simultaneously intimate, as they mirror each other in their laments. Caron’s sirenic presence and piercing eye contact break through the calculated haughtiness of Moore, her grief a physical madness that overtakes and controls her entire body. Tazy Harrison-Moore’s choreography of the frenzied and insatiable lust between Anna and the deceased James (Nash Norgaard Morton) is bewitching. The lovers manipulate each other’s bodies in a truly superb, sensual dance, laced with madness and aggression, that is both uncomfortable and hypnotic to watch.
The sapphic subplot between the twenty-three-year-old daughter Zara (Orly Benn) and the elegant older writer Catherine (Anastasia Joyce) is enhanced further by Anastasia’s powerful, natural control of language. Joyce delivers every line with a compelling assurance befitting of this older laureate. In contrast, Orly Benn creates a surliness to Zara’s youthful arrogance that contrasts beautifully with the sophisticated Katherine, and we are left unsure if we are rooting for them or against them.
In this bucolic celebration of gardens, it is only apt that the gardener Matthew (Ted Ackery) himself sows some of the play’s most poignant lines. Ackery’s subtlety whilst playing a seemingly simple character, the pastoral figure amid the austere down-from-towners, unmasks the real importance of the garden. Matthew and his wife Cheryl (Olivia Martin) quietly suffer, in a manner that is almost as devastating as the death of James, as he loses his memory. Benny Harrison’s Gabriel, a local boy from the village is the play’s most redeeming character, and Harrison’s performance leaves the audience longing for a happy ending for this bumbling sweetheart. Gabriel, along with the docile Paul (Amiran Antadze) and the matter-of-fact Krystyna provide the much-needed comedic relief in this deeply devastating tragedy.
Carmen Harkness’ costumes are stunning, ranging from flapper dresses to grubby dungarees, and they capture the seasonal change that is so redolent in this pastoral scene. They complement Freya White/Emily Richards’ turf-covered set, complete with dozens of plant pots, which is certainly ambitious but pays off beautifully. Quinn’s direction of these grief-stricken souls is truly admirable. Not only does one feel completely transported back into a pastoral England that often lies forgotten, but he also leaves us with that true feeling of despair and catharsis that can be so often lost in tragedies. As the play ends, and the garden decays, the sense of finality is almost unbearable. The proximity of the audience to the actors is inexpressibly frustrating and creates a real sense of hopelessness that falls over us just as much as it does on stage.
Unapologetically bleak, it becomes overwhelmingly clear that whilst the garden may flourish again, the characters will not, as grief takes centre stage and smothers all.
Albion was on at Bedlam Theatre from 11th to 14th October
Image by Andrew Morris provided via Press Release