Albion - ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Haunted by a dead England, a dead friendship, and a dead son; a woman sits in a doomed garden, alone.
Bedlam Theatre’s Albion is a gripping production that follows Audrey Waters (portrayed brilliantly by Ellie Moore) as she attempts to cling on to an idealised version of England, and the memory of her son, through the restoration of her new country house’s antique gardens. However, Audrey’s obsession with the garden monument reveals the cracks in her relationships with family and friends as she increasingly isolates herself in the pursuit of a romantic dreamland.
Albion, an old name for Great Britain, is not just about a divided family, but an increasingly divided nation-state looking for a place in a new world order. The amazing direction, performance and production come together to make this production a heartrending and thought-provoking show.
Moore is spectacular as the matriarch. Initially presenting an overexcited and stereotypical London ‘mummy’, she strides on stage wrapped in a white coat and cream scarf against a contrasting black turtleneck. However, as Act One continues, Moore emotively reveals cracks in Audrey’s designer armour as we learn more about the death of James, her only son. By Act Two, Moore’s superb performance comes into its own, with Audrey’s pristine exterior stripped away as the peaceful garden becomes a devastating familial battlefield. Moore is a superb lead, capturing the audience’s attention and hearts in a powerful performance.
However, Moore is not alone in her acting talent. The entire cast is incredible! Each character is wrapped up by the grief at James’s death, which grows like poisonous vines around each in turn.
The most emotive expression of this grief has to go to Isabella Caron as Anna, the partner of James before his untimely death. Her loss punctures the deepest, and her mourning is even more extreme than the reserved Audrey. Throughout, Caron subtly creates an atmosphere of depression around Anna which only grows in intensity as the play progresses. It reaches its peak as Anna dances with a vision of James, strikingly played by Nash Nørgaard Morton, in a tragically beautiful sequence.
In between Audrey and Anna’s battle over James’ memory, his sister Zara, played sensitively by Orly Benn, becomes smitten with the famous writer Katherine, excellently portrayed by Anastasia Joyce. Katherine, a friend of Audrey for over three decades, is faced with the choice of betraying her friend or being with Zara. Katherine transforms into one of Audrey's harshest critics, dismantling Audrey's personality in a sharply cutting fashion. Benn’s portrayal of Zara has a nice dynamic between the two, and her performance shows Zara’s continually changing opinion of her mother. She represents the future of England, and it is clear that it is not following in her mother’s footsteps.
The third point of this love triangle is Gabriel, a sheltered innocent, played wonderfully by Benny Harrison. Gabriel is characterised as a naïve but enthusiastic boy who has lived in the village all his life. Despite his dream of becoming a writer and being with Zara, Gabriel slowly gives up all hope. His final line (which I won’t spoil), becomes a particularly poignant moment through Harrison’s faultless delivery, and the superb direction of Conor O’Cuinn, who has expertly revealed all of Albion’s subtle messages and dark themes.
Amiran Antadze deserves recognition for his portrayal of the loveable Paul Waters, the rock/hippie husband to Audrey. Used mostly for moments of relief, Antadze is a real scene stealer with his hilarious quips which never fail to get a laugh. However, as the play progresses into darker territory, Antadze also shows his range, when Paul becomes the only stable rock that Audrey can cling to as she falls out of favour with everyone.
Other notable cast members in smaller roles include Ted Ackery, who was brilliant as the old gardener Matthew and Olivia Martin as his compassionate and caring wife Cheryl. Last but not least, her replacement Krystyna, who is played by the matter-of-fact Karolina Pavlikona. Despite having smaller roles, each brings depth to their characters, and they truly show the strength of the casting. The only multirole is by Nash Nørgaard Morton who portrays a plethora of characters and brings incredible range to each, seamlessly distinguishing them from one another.
Both this multirole and the entire production are helped out beautifully by the costume department headed by Carmen Harkness and Emilie Noel. The costumes are spectacular, they bring life and symbolism to each part of the play, especially concerning Audrey’s character arc. The audience is further transported into the very heart of the intimate garden through the use of dramatic lighting and simple yet highly effective set design.
Albion’s cast and crew deserve a huge congratulations for this fantastic production. It is gripping from start to finish with characters that you truly feel for, even when they might be in the wrong. It poses questions about what should be valued in our society, what traditions we should keep, and what sometimes needs to be buried. I would highly recommend it to all.