The Comeuppance

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Almeida Theatre
Almeida Theatre

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Tamara Lawrance as Ursula and Anthony Welsh as Emilio Credit: Marc Brenner
Yolanda Kettle as Caitlin, Tamara Lawrance as Ursula, Katie Leung as Kristina and Anthony Welsh as Emilio Credit: Marc Brenner
Ferdinand Kingsley as Paco and Yolanda Kettle as Caitlin Credit: Marc Brenner
Yolanda Kettle as Caitlin, Ferdinand Kingsley as Paco, Katie Leoni as Kristina, Tamara Lawrance as Ursula and Anthony Welsh as Emilio Credit: Marc Brenner

Back when they were teenagers, some classmates at a Catholic academy in Washington DC formed MERG (Multi Ethnic Reject Group). Twenty years later, Ursula, Emilio, Caitlin and Kristina meet up on Ursula’s porch in a Maryland suburb to go together to a class reunion. What can they look back on? As one of them puts it, “Columbine (a high school massacre), 9/11, the war, the war, the endless war, then Trump, then COVID.” How have their lives turned out?

First to turn up is Emilio, now a successful artist living in Berlin who hasn’t seen any of them since Kristina’s wedding fifteen years ago, and he’s back now not for this reunion so much as he has his sound sculptures in a major New York exhibition. There is a strange voice coming out of his mouth as he is speaking directly to the audience. “We’ve met before,” he tells them and lists names by which we might know him before declaring his is Death.

He uses each of the characters in turn as a mouthpiece with an echo on their voices and faces spotlit on a darkened stage, but he is not here to collect a life. “I’ve been very busy,” he tells us, now he’s just checking up on people. “Are you familiar with the notion of the dance macabre?” he asks. His presence, and in some ways the whole play, is a memento mori.

Anthony Welsh makes an engaging Emilio, despite his caustic appraisal of his old friends. He is still the outsider, unable to establish happy contact with others, though there seems to be an understanding between him and Tamara Lawrance’s gentle Ursula, now blind in one eye from diabetes. She’s spent years caring for a recently deceased grandmother, now is worried that her friends may move things and, challenged by unfamiliar places, doesn’t plan to go to the reunion.

Caitlin (Yolanda Kettle) is next to arrive. Once the brightest among them, she has become a stay-at-home mum married to a much older ex-policeman on the far right. She gets high and can be very funny, but when final MERG friend Kristina (Katie Leung) appears, she has brought with her her cousin Paco (Ferdinand Kingsley) who had an affair with Caitlin and treated her badly, which makes for a new situation. Kristina is a doctor with too many kids and a drink problem.

As these people catch up, often getting things wrong in their assumptions, there are laughs as well as more ominous echoes as their lives approach middle age, and well interwoven performances make the two hours of The Comeuppance’s single act pass quickly with its final scenes especially engaging.

Arnulfo Maldonado’s realistic setting with a view through that doesn’t really let us see into the house reflects the way that we don’t see the whole of these people’s lives, and with Natasha Chivers's lighting and Emma Laxton’s sound (and silence) combining the very real and the unnatural, Eric Ting’s production effectively bridges them.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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