There are no easy answers in Isley Lynn’s interwoven fragments of status and second chances. Concerned with the stories we tell ourselves about others, this collision of characters shows how class can affect every interaction, changing the way someone sees you, how long it takes them to trust you, and how much harder you have to fight to be heard.
Most of Albatross’s scenes are performed in pairs, each debating a moral quandary, the kind of small interaction that quickly becomes heated. Some of the characters are strangers, some lovers, some colleagues, some friends. At the end of each scene, one actor will leave and a new one will join. As the cast of six rotate through like this, the different contexts illuminate their characters’ hypocrisies; a support worker cheats on his girlfriend, then kicks out his client for lying.
Every intimate, individual scene is engaging, as the full-bodied characters knock up against their own judgments and histories. But as each character grows indignant, it can start to feel like an educational exercise, with textbook examples performed for a class to unpick.
Nevertheless, Lynn’s script is quick and funny, the language jittering with the natural patter of lines unfinished and words repeated as thoughts are formed. Sarel Madziya gives a particularly vivid performance as a rough sleeper, holding a weight of emotion in every expression. Her electric final speech challenges the idea that she, as someone in poverty, can’t be given the benefit of the doubt without having to explain her whole life story and provide what’s deemed an acceptable excuse.
Made by represent., a company for theatre-makers from lower-income backgrounds, this is a play whose concerns of choice and the lack thereof run deep in its blood. Alongside the run of the show, which is a cry for less class bias, the company is hosting a set of talks about theatre for social change and class barriers to the arts.
Albatross challenges the do-gooder attitude of middle-class onlookers, with one character telling another: “You don’t want to help. You want to say out loud that you’ve helped.” But this is not a cynical play. Lynn’s scenes are full of genuine connections between characters, and the hope that comes with change.
Albatross is at the Playground theatre, London, until 6 November.