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Posts Tagged ‘Charlotte Hope’

Another day, another allegorical play, but this time a brilliant one, staged and performed to perfection. Mike Bartlett proves himself to be as much the master of the epic as he is the miniature masterpiece.

Audrey is widowed, with a daughter in her early twenties and a new husband, Paul. She lost her son to war in the Middle East. She has a successful retail business, but decides to escape to the country, buying her deceased uncle’s former home Albion, with its huge garden, set on restoring it to its former glory using the plans of its famous garden designer. She’s self-obsessed, self-centred and domineering and she drives away her daughter, best friend and her son’s partner. Only her put-upon husband remains loyal. She also upsets the old retainers, neighbours and villagers along the way.

It’s an allegory of recent history in England’s green and pleasant land (Albion) and has way more depth than that brief description suggests. The Almeida has been reconfigured with the audience wrapped around an oval garden rimmed by a plant border and dominated by a tree; another extraordinary design from Miriam Buether. When the season changes, the border is transformed, itself a coup d’theatre, as is the end of the first half. Though its entertaining and often funny, it is above all deeply thought-provoking.

Audrey is a great part for an actress and Victoria Hamilton is sensationally good, but she’s surrounded by a host of other fine performances, notably Vinette Robinson as the son’s grieving partner Anna, Helen Schlesinger as best friend Katherine and Charlotte Hope as daughter Zara. Christopher Fairbank and Margot Leicester are lovely as the gardener / cleaner husband and wife and there’s an excellent nuanced performance as young neighbour Gabriel from Luke Thrallon.

We are so lucky to have so many good contemporary playwrights. Lets hope we don’t lose Mike Bartlett to TV after his success with Dr Foster. Only days ago I was worrying that some were given high profile stages too soon. Ironically, this would probably work on the Olivier stage where the other allegorical play Saint George & the Dragon doesn’t, but it’s more intimate at the Almeida where it engaged and moved me deeply.

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Sometimes revivals of plays can feel like museum pieces, but sometimes they still feel relevant or find a new meaning. So it is with this 38-year-old Sam Shepard piece. First time around there was the US oil crisis, deindustrialisation and stagflation. Now its all those things that have created the disenfranchised and disillusioned American working class who think Donald Trump provides the solution.

Dodge spends his whole life on the sofa, watching TV, drinking alcohol, smoking and taking a vast quantity of medication. His sprightly wife Halie befriends the church minister, well more than befriends it seems. Their sons Tilden & Bradley are a big disappointment and both more than a bit unhinged. Halie worships deceased son Ansel, an all-American boy who has taken on a near mythical status in her eyes; she and the minister are planning a statue. Then there’s the titular buried child…….

When Tilden’s son Vince arrives with his girlfriend Shelly, he doesn’t get the welcome he expects. When he goes out for drink for his granddad, he goes AWOL, leaving his girl with the mad men. When he and his grandma return the following day it all kicks off. The most dysfunctional of families.

You have to pick your way through the metaphors, symbolism and surrealism to find a story of disaffection and the demise of the American dream. The first act is too slow, but then it takes off on its grotesque, absurd ride through the rural mid-West. I found it much darker but more resonant than the last time I saw it in Matthew Warchus’ production at the NT 12 years ago, with another American film actor, M Emmett Walsh, as Dodge. Though Ed Harris and his wife Amy Madigan are the real draw (both excellent) it’s a uniformly excellent cast, including relative newcomer Jeremy Irvine as Vince and an impressive West End debut from Charlotte Hope as Shelley.

I was glad I overcame my reluctance to see it again so soon.

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