Review: Albion (Bush Theatre) JohnnyFox October 4, 2014 Reviews, Theatre Review: Albion (Bush Theatre) Was it only February when broadsheets and bloggers were falling over themselves in the rush to praise Chris Thompson’s stunning debut play Carthage? The Finborough production had every element to excite them: a sinister central plot about an unnamed crime committed by a boy in care, painfully realistic characters drawn with acute observation from his 13-year career in social work, and the blackest comedy dialogue. Barely six months later, he’s back with another explosive piece. Commissioned by the Bush Theatre, Albion marks a progression in Thompson’s work: still mining fascinating material from his career experience in social work and displaying a near-perfect ear for dialogue. There’s a touch of “second album syndrome” in that it’s a broad-brush sweep over the more actually pointillist landscape of British nationalism and doesn’t quite achieve the brilliance and originality of Carthage – but on the upside it is more deliberately and overtly entertaining and has an engaging female lead in Natalie Casey. It’s a good and topical idea to illustrate the marginalization of the white working class and their impotent distrust of the migrants they blame for taking their jobs, and it’s an interesting concept to write a play in which karaoke lyrics illuminate the feelings of the characters, but rather like the pub carpet pierced by a white perspex cross of St George the hammer-and-nails technique required to fasten these two elements together is sometimes cruder and more intrusive than the karaoke itself. He’s on stronger ground with the subplot of a scapegoated social worker played by Casey who finds political correctness and institutionalized fear of accusation of racism fails to protect a white girl abducted by Asian men on her watch. But that disintegrates in the second half when she first forms an alliance with the “English Protection Army” leader then on an unexplained spin of a coin, opposes him in an election for mayor. Despite Steve-John Shepherd’s carefully-framed performance as leader Paul Ryman, only the most haemophilic of bleeding-heart liberals would see the EPA personalities as truly representative or, despite the veracity in their individual situations, suspend disbelief to the point at which Ryman could plausibly have a gay brother with a camp Pakistani lover, and a black best-mate who is also the boyfriend of his sister in the army who is brutally murdered by “Muslimists”. Containing all these characters within a family format is a serious mistake which wouldn’t even work in EastEnders, and while the economies of fringe theatre production are important, the dramatis personae needs opening out: the tension between rank and file and the leadership is only reported, it would be interesting to see on stage some actual personification of the brutal element and to explore their motives. At the same time, since the play already features extensive and effective video usage, it could be even more powerful if it were also used for all the appearances of the female soldier or the girl raped by Asian men. Not knowing whether it’s a state-of-the-nation play or a burgeoning musical is forgiveable for a writer still exploring his range, although historically it has been possible to combine both as Alan Bennett’s Forty Years On demonstrated in the 70s, or Trevor Griffiths did in the 80’s by fusing a punk band to the neo-nazi riots in Oi For England! Maybe it’s no coincidence that the school in which Bennett set his piece was called … Albion House. None of this detracts from what’s certainly an enjoyable evening: it’s tantalising though to speculate how much more might be made of the material in a broadened-out production, maybe one with access to a huge cast like the National Youth Theatre. Or a collaboration with Shane Meadows.