Review: Building The Wall at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans

PUBLISHED: 10:17 14 October 2020 | UPDATED: 10:21 14 October 2020

Roger Bartlett as Rick in the dress rehearsal for Company of Ten's production of Building The Wall at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans. Picture: Anne Frizell

Roger Bartlett as Rick in the dress rehearsal for Company of Ten's production of Building The Wall at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans. Picture: Anne Frizell

Anne Frizell

The Company of Ten’s production of Building The Wall opened at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans on Tuesday night. Madeleine Burton reviews the theatre’s first play back with a socially-distanced audience.

Roger Bartlett as Rick and Sarah Priddy as Gloria in the Company of Ten's production of Building The Wall at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans. Picture: Anne FrizellRoger Bartlett as Rick and Sarah Priddy as Gloria in the Company of Ten's production of Building The Wall at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans. Picture: Anne Frizell

Whatever you think about Donald Trump – and few if any US presidents have polarised the population as he has – Building The Wall takes the audience way beyond the current issues.

The Robert Schenkkan play, currently being performed both on stage and in live streaming by the Company of Ten at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans, is a dystopian vision of a Trump future based on the president’s notorious views on unrestricted immigration and border security.

From what starts almost as a chat between two people in a prison to a shocking revelation that takes Building The Wall into a different dimension, it is a profound and thought-provoking play.

Building The Wall is a clever choice by the Company of Ten because as a two hander, it lends itself well to live streaming.

Roger Bartlett as Rick and Sarah Priddy as African-American history professor Gloria in the Company of Ten's production of Building The Wall at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans. Picture: Anne FrizellRoger Bartlett as Rick and Sarah Priddy as African-American history professor Gloria in the Company of Ten's production of Building The Wall at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans. Picture: Anne Frizell

Under normal, non-COVID, circumstances, it would have been performed in the more intimate surroundings of the Abbey Theatre Studio but even with a limited audience in the main theatre, it comes over as a powerful and cathartic piece of drama.

For as co-director Tina Swain points out in her programme notes, it raises many more issues than just repulsion at the dilemma facing the prisoner Rick and how he handled it.

And it is to her credit and that of Terry Prince, who was directing it before lockdown, that the production stays so true to the playwright’s vision.

It looks beyond horror to the plight of the ‘little man’ caught up in events outside his control, fighting exhaustion and mental health issues and balancing family with a surrealism beyond most people’s comprehension.

Roger Bartlett as Rick and Sarah Priddy as Gloria in the Company of Ten's production of Building The Wall at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans. Picture: Anne FrizellRoger Bartlett as Rick and Sarah Priddy as Gloria in the Company of Ten's production of Building The Wall at the Abbey Theatre in St Albans. Picture: Anne Frizell

The two protagonists, Roger Bartlett as Rick and Sarah Priddy as the Afro-American history professor Gloria who is interviewing him, are excellent throughout.

They get totally under the skin of their characters and never once did that slip, even though the play is one and a half hours long with no interval.

As the tension builds and the shocking denouement becomes clear, Roger captures Rick’s increasing agitation.

Gloria’s horrified yet outwardly calm response, is made even more real by Sarah’s range of facial expressions.

And the play – and their performances – leaves you thinking, could this happen in the civilised Western world? Could it?

It was a pleasure to be back in the Abbey Theatre after so long, even under the necessary social distancing restrictions.

But even if you watch Building The Wall as a live stream, it will leave you with plenty of food for thought – and isn’t that what good theatre is all about?

Performances start at 8pm and run until this Saturday, October 17.

Tickets can be obtained from www.abbeytheatre.org.uk


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