Stuart King

Review: THE COMEUPPANCE at Almeida

A small group of high school friends attend an informal pre-party to their main 20th anniversary school reunion. Some have stayed local to the now Trumpian American backwater, whilst others moved away or were irreparably changed by their time spent serving overseas. As we learn how each has been variously touched by the passing of time, they bemoan elements of their lives and some cannot resist the urge to pick at old wounds.

Almeida Theatre - The Comeuppance. Yolanda Kettle, Ferdinand Kingsley, Katie Leung, Tamara Lawrance and Anthony Welsh. Credit Marc BrennerYolanda Kettle, Ferdinand Kingsley, Katie Leung, Tamara Lawrance and Anthony Welsh in The Comeuppance at the Almeida Theatre. Credit Marc Brenner

Given that there is nothing especially new in any of this premise, you may be wondering what makes the play interesting and worth seeing. Well, for starters Death puts in an appearance right at the beginning and this is no scythe-wielding, hooded cliché. Here, he manifests as a metaphysical representation, delivered by one of the cast held in a spotlight whilst the remainder of the stage is rendered in subdued light and other cast members freeze. To avoid any confusion, the vocal delivery of the actor is enhanced with an ethereal and tinny effect when they speak as Death. The device is singularly effective and is repeated throughout the play with each cast member taking a turn at delivering Death’s thoughts and observations specific to the moment (and about humanity in general) directly to the audience.

There is a great deal of ebb and flow in the dialogue, with characters demonstrating the disparities in their personal recollections of events, which naturally leads to moments of hilarity and others where full-throttle arguments ensue. The battle for the middle ground is often filled with a semi-drunken and sometimes rambling personal outpouring of angst and disenchantment — the most effective of which (delivered by Kristina), manages to be tragic, pathetic and amusing all at once.

Whilst personal storylines provide the relatable nuggets which help us connect to the characters, the writer/director team of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and Eric Ting also use the 20 year time period as a framing device to evaluate the major events which have served as a backdrop and whose impact has sometimes been profound and insidiously scarring. 9/11, Columbine and on into the post-Covid era, the list has a sobering effect when considered as a whole and goes part-way to explaining the dysfunctionality of those reuniting on stage and perhaps our global society as a whole.

The company members appearing in this Almeida production are:

Yolanda Kettle - Caitlin
Anthony Welsh - Emilio
Tamara Lawrance - Ursula
Katie Leung - Kristina
Ferdinand Kingsley - Paco/Simon