The Emporium Theatre’s new season opened on February 2 with the World Premiere of a brand new play by Brighton based writer Simon David Eden.
The Albatross 3rd & Main is a slick, punchy, black comedy and a psychological thriller, full of sharp, stylish and intelligent writing.
The action takes place on a single day in a sleepy, backwater general store in rural Massachusetts. Gene, good-natured, emotional but somewhat downtrodden, was once the store owner but is now heavily in debt after a back-breaking divorce. He has been forced to sell the business to Lullaby, his store hand, a retired boxer and a humble giant of a man who appears slow to react but likes to take time to think. Third in this well-balanced, three-hander is Spider, a mysterious and wonderfully drawn, small time fence, who seems part Nathan Detroit, part Danny Zuko.
I thought the first half of the play was brilliant, as the three, very different central characters pitted their wits and words against each other, attempting to make some sense of the bigger questions of life and the universe, as well as their own current predicaments. Through their verbal sparring the writer serves up a feast of comedy, reflection and wit, his characters deconstructing ideas, truisms and clichés along the way, sometimes with insight, but often completely unintentionally, so that the audience has to think twice, sometimes three times, to get to the joke. One minute you’re watching three philosophers, the next it’s The Three Stooges. But it’s all very balanced, very funny, and beautifully acted.
The emphasis of the play shifts, however, firstly with the introduction of some potentially lucrative but highly contraband road kill, which ups the ante, offers a financial lifeline, but also creates a dilemma for the three men. Then secondly, in Act 2, a gun is introduced which ushers in a more violent intent that propels the story forwards but also dramatically changes the feel of the play. For me it’s a device that escalates the plot more than it elevates it, and as we know from Act 1, there’s a difference between an escalator and an elevator.
From then on, while the play continues to question, amuse and make you laugh out loud, the plot becomes the driver, and the comedy also feels much darker as Spider morphs into a dangerous, dislikeable thug. Events culminate in a tense and violent stand-off followed by a darkly comic, absurdist end which leaves the audience slightly in limbo.
Congratulations go to Charlie Allen, Geoff Aymer and Nicholas Boulton, who as Spider, Lullaby and Gene deliver wonderful individual and ensemble performances full of comic nuance and understanding. Charlie Allen is especially brilliant in the first part of the play, his misplaced sagacity and swagger beautifully measured as his more violent alter ego is hidden.
Congratulations also to Simon David Eden, who also made his directorial debut with this play. His writing is constantly enquiring and full of ideas and subtext. It’s challenging, but in a playful way that isn’t daunting. It’s very clever but it’s also very, very funny. This, along with the fine performances, make the play a fitting opener to Emporium’s new season and a must see for theatregoers from Brighton and beyond.
The Albatross 3rd and Main, runs until February 20, at Emporium Theatre, Brighton.
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