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BBC iPlayer (filmed at Almeida, London) review: Albion

Albion, BBC iPlayer until September 15 (filmed at the Almeida Theatre, London)

This may be the treat of the lockdown: A terrific play with outstanding performances, beautifully shot - and available on BBC iPlayer.

It’s at times like this that you’re reminded what great value the BBC is: Annual licence fee £157; two tickets to London’s Almeida Theatre, something like 80 quid (although there are lots of concessions available at the Almeida).

If you’re anti-BBC and pro-Brexit, you might not appreciate just what a treat this is. Written in 2017 and brought back to the stage this year, the very week after Britain left the EU, there’s no doubting where writer Mike Bartlett stands in the debate which has left the country hopelessly split and nervous of its future.

Albion is set in an English country garden. It, and the house it’s attached to are in something of a decline. The new owner, successful businesswoman Audrey, remembers the garden from her childhood and she’s obsessed with the idea of restoring it to its former glory.

And to complicate matters, the garden is where Audrey has scattered the ashes of her beloved son James, a soldier killed in war. She has a very real, visceral, connection to that land.

So, driven and determined as she is, nothing will be allowed to get in the way of her grand plan. But longing to recreate some glorious past blinds her to what’s happening around her. Family, in the shape of her daughter Zara, partner, friendship, neighbours – all must play second fiddle to the grand, expensive, and ultimately ruinous garden renovation.

If it all sounds heavyweight and dry, it isn’t. Albion is billed as a tragi-comedy and there are light moments and plot twists and turns which will stretch your sympathies in unexpected ways.

Victoria Hamilton is riveting as Audrey: Desperately clinging on to her vision, “holding the line” against unwelcome change, but fighting a losing battle as real life chips away at her, undermining her certainties.

Hamilton is brilliant, but all the performances are spot on. The light moments are mostly provided by Audrey’s partner Paul, played by Nicholas Rowe with a laid-back charm. He’s devoted to her but he knows exactly where he stands. Audrey’s the boss. And by conceding all power in their relationship, he becomes her enabler.

Daisy Edgar-Jones (Normal People) is Zara, rebelling in an unexpected way; Helen Schlesinger is long-suffering Katherine. She is supposedly Audrey’s best friend but like Paul, she also knows exactly where she stands: Audrey knows nothing about her or her life, oblivious even to the fact that she’s a successful author. And even Anna, tortured girlfriend of the lost son, played with real intensity by Angel Coulby, has to go through her pain alone. She hopes for some support from Audrey, and gets none.

This is high quality unmissable drama, with writer, director (Rupert Gould), actors, designers all at the top of their games. Thanks, BBC.

Pictured: Victoria Hamilton and Nicholas Rowe.

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