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Review: The Comeuppance (Almeida Theatre)

Review by Daz Gale

 

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

Death is lurking around the Almeida Theatre but don’t worry, he’s not there to close a show early -  instead, his presence is an intriguing and integral part of the UK premiere of this timely play which sees the past and present colliding in a post-pandemic world. Having already caused a buzz with its run in the USA, would The Comeuppance win over the UK as well or would this run come with unexpected consequences?

 


Set in 2022, The Comeuppance sees a group of friends gather on a porch as they prepare to go to their high school reunion, 20 years later. With events from their past catching up with them, their abilities to move on with their lives reveal some old habits as repercussions from their youth cause fractures and fights within the group. With the friends haunted by Death, the threat of something terrible happening on this night is ever-present, although you are always left guessing as to what exactly this might be.

 

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ textured writing ensures the show is captivating, while ever-changing in tone. While the show takes a more comic approach initially, darkness creeps in throughout, ensuring the jokes are less prominent. What doesn’t change, however, is the quality of the writing, which remains consistently breathtaking throughout. With no shortage of laugh-out-loud moments and a lot of depth, the end result is a thought-provoking and highly satisfying story that takes the events surrounding one isolated night and fills it with backstory and fully fleshed-out characters that makes it not only easy to follow but effortless to invest your interest into.



With its very recent setting, The Comeuppance takes events from the last few years and beyond and uses them as integral points for conversation starters and to draw parallels in themes, rather than just feeling shoehorned in randomly in a refreshing approach. With 9/11, The Columbine High School massacre and the Capitol attack of January 6th all prominent, it isn’t always an easy watch as it revisits some truly disturbing moments from our lifetimes. However, it is its comments on the pandemic that really play the biggest part in the story. While Covid is still fresh in a lot of our minds with its repercussions still paramount in our lives, the topic is approached with sensitivity and creativity in dialogue that proves relatable and affecting. A monologue towards the close of the play speaking about how people were during those years and how we are now is an incredible piece of writing, and one that lingered on my mind long after I left the theatre.

 

Eric Ting’s direction matches the brilliance of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ writing effortlessly, particularly in his approach of having actors transform from their own characters into Death throughout the play. It is the meticulous and well-thought-out way these moments occur that makes The Comeuppance such a success, with distinct changes to light and sound on stage and around the theatre making it incredibly atmospheric. Natasha Chivers’ lighting and Emma Laxton’s sound must be commended in creating this world, and for all having the same vision in defining these differing moments and tones throughout the show.  These moments also come with visual effects, courtesy of Skylar Fox and William Houstoun, all of which make Arnulfo Maldonado’s perfectly realised set design an all-round stunning production.



A cast of five sensational actors bring the story to life, with their own dynamics as a group and in various partnerships a joy to watch. It is their ability to hold the stage on their own monologues, as they each do in turn, that really speaks to their strengths as performers in a show where all five are collective stars as an ensemble. Anthony Welsh bookends the show with an initially withdrawn portrayal of Emilio that slowly unravels to show a lot of versatility in his acting. Tamara Lawrance plays the perfect counterpart to this as the no-nonsense Ursula, whose tragic history and circumstances remains present through a heartfelt performance that threatens to dominate the entire cast at times but manages to hold back to let the others shine.

 

Yolanda Kettle delights as Caitlin, battling the balance from her younger self to her present one, while Katie Leung has to give a larger-than-life performance at times due to her character Kristina’s arc, but manages to do so with nuance and believability. The cast of five are completed by Ferdinand Kingsley who goes to various extremes as Paco in what can at times be an uncomfortable watch but always a captivating one.



The Comeuppance is a play that encapsulates the very best of theatre. Its incredible writing has the ability to make you laugh but also profoundly move you. With its very recent setting and discussing fresh events, it manages to punctuate these moments to make them even more impactful – the end result is a thought-provoking and powerful piece of theatre. At the heart of the play is the theme of consequences showing up due to bad choices in your past. The repercussions from this incredible production is a refreshing and breathtaking play that really is unmissable. Ironically for a play where death plays a huge part, The Comeuppance gave me life.

 

The Comeuppance plays at the Almeida Theatre until 18th May, Tickets from www.Almeida.co.uk 

 

Photos by Marc Brenner

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