Thursday, 26 October 2017

Play: Albion

Tonight, Up in the Cheap Seats was off to the sold-out Albion, at the Almeida. Same writers as Charles III, which I enjoyed immensely - I was looking forward to this.

The evening started hectically.. our office has a Hallowe'en party tomorrow, and I did ask my co-workers whether people would dress up for it. "Oh, no!" they assured me. "They did the first year, but after that people didn't bother." Heh. I think I asked the wrong people. What did they do today? Only went out and bought costumes! Which led me to a last-minute rush to Angels, just down the road, before heading out to my play. Lord, it was packed, though! I'm guessing this is their single busiest time of the year. Men's costumes on the ground floor, accessories on the first, women's to buy on the second, teens' on the third, women's to hire on the fourth. I squeezed my way up the cobwebbed staircase, then up another backstairs to the second floor - where I pretty quickly saw something that would suit. They had catalogues on the long desk, much like Argos, and if you picked something from that, they got it from the long warehouse-type shelving behind. I was happy with what I had though, and clambered down again.

The tills, it turned out, were on the first floor - and it took me a solid 25 minutes to snake my way through the queue. Just as well I was early! The queue meandered past many latex scars and wounds, among other things - but I wasn't really tempted. Frantic shop assistants tried to organise the flow of people in, which increased considerably while I was there - by the time I got to the tills, the queue "behind" me had gotten so long that the only place to put them was on the stairs up to the next floor. Which meant I had to cut through the end of the queue when it was my turn, finally, to pay - just like the snake in the old game, which always ended up eating its own tail! When I had finally paid, we were sent out the back way - which is what the second door leading to the street is for. And I had an extra bag to carry with me, too large to fit into the other, and sealed, so I couldn't fit the other into it.

And so to catch a bus, and fortunately one was along shortly. Lordy though, traffic was so terrible - up to about Rosebery Avenue - that I was sure I'd be late for the play. Thank goodness my plan had been to arrive about half an hour early, because that was when the group would be meeting! As it was, it was 10 minutes before the start when I finally got off, and hurried up St. Mary's Path, a tiny alleyway linking Essex Road, where I had got off the bus, and Upper Street, where I needed to be. I had to cross for Almeida Street - handily, they have a zebra crossing just there, so no problem! By now I was within five minutes of start - I dashed to the box office for my ticket, which was slightly problematic when she asked my address, because it turned out I'd used my Irish credit card! No idea why.

Anyway, ticket in hand, I dashed outside again, being sat upstairs. Not the first door - that was for seats in the low numbers. Not the second door - no, that was for stalls seats in the high numbers. No, I had to enter by the third and final door, which led to an enormous flight of stairs, at the top of which I was told to scooch around the other side, where I was sat to the side of the stage, in the front row. Well, the only row here - we did have people standing behind us though, who could lean on a rail just behind our heads. The view was decent, albeit with a safety rail in the way - or would have been, except for the woman beside me, who spent most of the evening leaning on said rail, so I must needs lean forward myself, or crane to the side, to see anything to the right of the stage.

Speaking of which, that's a great big tree they have for this production! The whole thing takes place in a relatively small garden, mostly lawn, with a seat built around the tree, and an earth border. Some gardening does go on in the course of the play. There's also some weather - at the end of the first act, there's a rain shower, and a breeze is ruffling the leaves at the start of the second. Very well done, actually. Caveat: there's a thunderstorm at one point, so flashing lights are involved.

And so to the story, and in particular its main character, played stunningly by Victoria Hamilton. Oh my, I disliked her from the start. Briskly offensive to absolutely everyone, she put me in mind of a couple of strong female English public figures - she even has the submissive husband to fetch and carry. If there's a prejudice that she doesn't show in the first act, I can't remember it. She's just moved back to the countryside after years of living in London, and her young daughter couldn't be more disgusted. There's a young local lad that cleans the windows for pocket money - well, she treats him like a servant; there are a couple of actual servants, husband and wife, who've been there forever: and there's a strangely insecure-looking young woman, whom she seems to look down on. There's the promise of a visit from her well-travelled friend, a famous author whom the younger people have read, and are starstruck by. And shortly, there's a young Polish cleaner, whom she's asked to stop by because, well, the old cleaner just isn't up to it.

Right then, let's get metaphorical. She makes for a character you love to hate, but I do think she's meant to represent Albion itself, or perhaps people who yearn for an idealised version. And there's a lot in this about Brexit, which is actually referenced, and got a titter from the audience, although it's not specifically named. She's been seduced in the past by the bright lights of the big city, and has done well in business - but now she hankers after more traditional values. She wants to return to her roots, wants her family around her, tends to ignore more modern trends, and disapproves of what she can't ignore. She criticises her cosmopolitan friend for her scathing description of the small-mindedness of country folk, in her writing. She constantly refers to the history of the place, which she wants to revive.

And, as the play progresses - and without wanting to give away too much of the plot - she finds her fortunes going much the same way as those of Britain since Brexit, what with financial difficulties, the welcoming of some outsiders and the exclusion of others, and the ultimate alienation of her cosmopolitan, well travelled friend - who still lives in London, by the way. There's something of a twist at the end, which is perhaps too much of a stretch, as suggested by some in the group.

But hey, I found it very interesting - if not particularly cheery - and I could seriously write a long essay on this play, and how it relates to contemporary politics. Beautifully acted, too - and it was fascinating to see how the different characters progress, including the young country lad who squanders his potential. So, quite a serious play - worth watching, particularly if you're interested in current affairs. Runs till the 24th. They had a Q+A afterwards, but honestly, by now it was going on 11, and I needed to get food on the way home - I was starving! The chocolate chip brownie I had at the interval - and queued for five minutes to get - was a lifesaver, though! And the bus home.. much quicker, of course.

Tomorrow, after the office shenanigans, I'm back to Ireland for the weekend again - hopefully, by that stage they'll have cleared the roads following Storm Ophelia. And Storm BrianOn Monday, I finally get to see Apologia, at Trafalgar Studios - London Dramatic Arts was going to this a while ago, but it was far too expensive on that occasion. Well, that's what you get for having Stockard Channing and Laura Carmichael in it! Amazon Tickets again.

And finally, I'm hoping for a nicely scary Hallowe'en.. when I heard that they were doing the first-ever stage production of The Exorcist - and what's more, it's on in the Phoenix Theatre, right behind the office.. well, that was fate, wasn't it?! I jumped to get a ticket for that, as soon as they went on sale - after all, Hallowe'en has to be its most popular night! Jenny Seagrove plays the mother of the demonically possessed teen..

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