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REVIEW | THE COMEUPPANCE AT THE ALMEIDA

Branden Jacob-Jenkins’ newest play just doesn’t feel that new. writes Paige Bruton.

Photo courtesy of Marc Brenner


An initial image: The stars and stripes flap violently in the wind as Hot in Here by Nelly echoes through the theatre.


It’s August 2022. Covid has just finished ripping across the United States, and Americans are still feeling dazed and achy in its wake. Past friends Emilio (Anthony Welsh) and Ursula (Tamara Lawrance) stand awkwardly on her grandmother’s veranda, waiting for a limo to take the old gang to their 20 year high school reunion. As more of their friends arrive – bottles of vodka and stacks of red cups in hand – traumas and missed opportunities reveal themselves: an embarrassing marriage to a QAnon supporter, PTSD from an ambush whilst serving in Afghanistan, abortions and then miscarriages, a creeping disability, the responsibilities of just way too many kids. 


It’s a classic laughs-to-tears theatre set-up. And that’s the problem. 


Branden Jacob-Jenkins’ newest play is plagued by everything that is not new in theatre: the high school reunion meant to elicit nostalgia for the past, the porch set as a “liminal space” (not my words, both Jacob-Jenkins’ and director Eric Ting’s in the same interview), and even a personified Death complete with a sardonic sense of humour and a cringe-worthy echo. 


Maybe The Comeuppance is an on-the-nose love letter to the theatre? Maybe it’s even an exploration of kitsch? That would all be interesting (though maybe not to everyone’s taste) except that the play also deals in contemporary realist themes: the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the Covid-19 pandemic, AI. It’s a news cycle of the crises we come to the theatre to escape, or explore further, or see from another angle. Unfortunately, there is something about the use of Facetime and a backdrop of the Pandemic that arrests our idea of what theatre is and should be: it feels contrived and obvious, sloppy even. Alongside so many kitschy troupes of theatre, the result is a production that feels plastic and Death’s direct address of the audience – “Think on that, you can tell me later” – falls flat.


Saying this, there are many things to like about The Comeuppance. It’s brilliantly acted by a group one could have thought were straight out of New York, until Lawrance suddenly voices “Death” in a north London accent. Yolanda Kettle, who plays Caitlin, and Anthony Walsh are the cast forerunners, each demonstrating two sides of a political coin in performances that are both empathetic and non-sensationalist. It’s a high-quality representation of contemporary discussions of identity, even if you’ve seen similar plays before. 




The Comeuppance is undeniably an entertaining production about contemporary America, but audiences looking for more on offer should go elsewhere. 


 

Paige Bruton is a London-based journalist and critic, originally from Bermuda. She holds a MSc from Columbia Journalism School, and she specialises in writing about the arts and culture. You can read her other work published in the essay collection, Exhumed: Experiments in Memory, and can find her through her twitter here.

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