Review: THE COMEUPPANCE, Almeida Theatre

The UK premiere of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins‘ high school reunion satire is directed by Eric Ting

By: Apr. 14, 2024
Review: THE COMEUPPANCE, Almeida Theatre
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Review: THE COMEUPPANCE, Almeida Theatre Welcome to a high school reunion with a difference: this one has an uninvited (but secret) guest. In Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ latest play, a group of friends collectively known as “MERGE” have gathered for a pre-reunion meet-up; Ursula, Emilio, Caitlin, Kristina and Paco haven’t all been in the same place together for quite a few years, so there’s lots to share - and plenty of old grievances to be aired.

Eric Ting returns as director, after helming the initial Off Broadway production last year, and is joined by a UK cast consisting of Tamara Lawrance, Anthony Welsh, Yolanda Kettle, Katie Leung and Ferdinand Kingsley.

It can be a bit of a toss-up these days as to whether plays, films or TV programmes will mention or acknowledge the Covid pandemic. On the whole, I generally favour those that ignore it - many pieces directly inspired by the pandemic have felt overly earnest, yet somehow quite unnatural and forced in their delivery, so it’s usually best to just skirt around the issue. The Comeuppance, however, finally manages to pull it off.

Ostensibly it’s a play about a group of friends meeting for a 20th high school reunion, but at its heart it’s a meditation on the Covid lockdowns and the lasting after-effects of that period of time. The genius of it lies in the fact that it zones in on the idea of isolation followed by a reconvening - both in terms of the pandemic and also through the lens of long-term friendships.

The hidden, unwanted guest reveals themselves to the audience intermittently, as each of the cast take turns to give voice to it as a narrator of sorts; this aspect of the play takes a little while to bed in, but once you’re on board with it the whole thing becomes even more compelling (Emma Laxton’s sound design deserves a mention for this). It has a running time of approximately two hours without an interval, but that isn’t quite as daunting as it first sounds - though it does drag a little in places, the direction and performances are so slick you almost don’t notice the time passing.

Every member of the company has excellent comic timing, as well as great dramatic chops; the blend of humour and drama allows the play to remain engaging, and it is a real skill to be able to quickly switch between these two modes. Tamara Lawrance and Anthony Welsh stand out as the seemingly more grounded Ursula and Emilio - their characters’ bond is at the heart of the piece, and you feel the warmth of their friendship from their very first onstage interaction.

School reunion stories have been done before, but this one does something a little different - and as well as all that, it broaches the trauma of the COVID pandemic in an original and thought-provoking way. Entertaining yet hard-hitting, this is very much worth two hours of your time.

The Comeuppance is at the Almeida Theatre until 18 May

Photo credit: Marc Brenner


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