Photography by Thea Melton with permission for Varsity

Content Note: Brief mention of war and fascism

Albion, by Mark Bartlett, is a complicated work, one that tackles and exposes some of the most nuanced and unsettling aspects of our culture. With an understated yet deeply provocative script, this week seven production promises to provide a new, engaging voice to the Cambridge scene. I spoke with producer Channan Sangha and Director Elena Pare about what this production of Albion means for them and their process in bringing it to the stage.

“It’s an explosive family drama, with twists and turns, darkened by the force of fascism”

"Albion is all about Audrey. She lost her son at war and hungers to regenerate the garden of a beautiful old house in the English countryside. The garden is ‘Albion’. It was imagined, and created by an army general after the First World War, then left to deteriorate. In trying to bring it back to life, she alienates her daughter, her friendships implode, love blossoms, and dark secrets rise from the freshly toiled soil. It’s an explosive family drama, with twists and turns, darkened by the force of fascism growing in the shadows.”

From this elevator pitch, it is obvious why Albion is an important play to perform but I asked if it had any other clear attractions:

“We were looking for a play set in a garden to put on in the beautiful Clare Scholars’ Garden and were recommended Albion by a friend, who was blown away after seeing it in London. Not only is it perfect for the venue, but the play’s message is also both poignant and nuanced.”

Cambridge’s Easter term is not an easy time to rehearse for a production. The pressure of exams and revision often eclipses even the most ardent of directors and engaged casts. I asked how they overcame these challenges and what the rehearsal process was like:

“Like everything else at Cambridge, and particularly theatre, it’s been very intensive! We have a wonderful assistant director, Hugo Gregg, who led the rehearsal process at first, while Lily and I were still writing exams. Our incredibly talented cast has been dedicated to this production from the beginning, which is particularly impressive considering that they’ve had to juggle exams and also some challenging scenes.”

It is impressive in itself to overcome the terrifying tripos typhoon that threatens to trash even the least trepid of theatrical troupes. Albion was also troubled by timings. The logistics of this production and its setting were also at the front of the production team’s mind.

“As quite a long play we needed to be very careful. We had to abridge some parts but, of course, needed to keep their meaning. Performing outdoors has also been quite tricky; we are exposed to the weather and cannot always create the effects prescribed in the stage directions. Nonetheless, it’s been such a fun experience to bring this play to life in an outdoor setting.”

“Bartlett’s play is radical and powerful”

Yet, with every challenge given Albion, it’s set to be performed at Clare’s Scholar’s Garden from the 16th to the 18th. I asked for Channan and Elana to give me a bit of a sales pitch: Why should people come to see Albion?

“First of all, it’s an opportunity to spend time in the Clare Scholars’ Garden. As a Grade, I listed garden by the river, in the centre of Cambridge, it’s such an idyllic and intimate setting.”


Mountain View

Celebrating queerness with Lavender Beards

But, of course, despite the beauty of its setting the most interesting and alluring aspect of this production is its resonance. Even from a cursory knowledge of the script, it is clear that this work is highly relevant to our current climate, and that’s not just because it’s staged outside. To wrap up I asked about how they feel this manifests within the production:

“As to Albion itself, it’s such a timely play. First staged at the Almeida in the wake of the Brexit referendum, and then again after the UK left the EU in 2020, Albion grows in resonance as the world we live in ebbs and flows. Exploring nationalism, xenophobia, intergenerational love, and heteronormativity—Bartlett’s play is radical and powerful. We are so excited to be the third-ever production to stage it, and hope that audience members come to share our enthusiasm!”

Albion is showing at 5pm at Clare College Scholars’ Garden from the 16th-18th of June