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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The Comeuppance @ Almeida Theatre…

Short version: 

Romy and Michele meets millennial mumblecore. With Death as a character. It’s was great. A minor quibble at the ending, but 99% spot on. Stuart and I loved it. 

(Much) Longer version: 

Depending on how your life has gone, a high school reunion can either be a victory lap or a source of deep humiliation. Romy and Michele taught us that. But ace writer Branden Jacobs-Jenkins has more to say on the matter (a lot more) in his wordy, intermittently explosive drama The Comeuppance, that has just finished making its UK premiere at the Almeida Theatre in London’s glitzy Islington. 

Directed by Eric Ting and starring Yolanda Kettle, Ferdinand Kingsley, Tamara Lawrance, Katie Leung, and Anthony Welsh, it was a great night of theatre. 

The ‘action’ takes place in Maryland in 2022, just hours before a 20-year high school reunion. Members of the self-described M.E.R.G. (“multi-ethnic reject group”) gather to ‘pregame’ on the porch of the local home where Ursula has lived her entire life since college. 

Emilio is the first on the scene, all the way from Berlin where he lives and works as an internationally recognised sound installation artist. Caitlin shows up next, and Emilio soon after makes a quip about her much older husband, who was at the Capitol on 6th January. Yes, things turn prickly pretty quick. 

Kristina arrives in her army dress blues. An overworked doctor with five kids, she is determined to seize this opportunity for unbridled fun. But she has brought along her cousin (and Caitlin’s problematic ex-boyfriend) Francisco, who was not in their class, was not really a part of M.E.R.G., and is clearly not welcome in the eyes of Emilio. More prickles. 

Sparks soon fly as unsettled grudges grind against the whetstone of two decades of adult trauma.  

Death is ever-present. It regularly suspends the action to speak directly to us, possessing the bodies of each of the characters in turn over the course of this two-hour, 10-minute one-act. 

“There is so much to admire about the human body,” it opines. “Especially at this age, so noble, fighting its good fight against a certain… softening. You cell repair systems — my most ancient nemeses — are long broken down. You lose those at 27. Did you know that?” 

Those of us over that age (the vast majority in any given off-West End audience) are undoubtedly delighted to hear this public service announcement.   

Jacobs-Jenkins is a master of invective, and he reserves some of his best for Emilio. Pain radiating from his dejected gaze, he delivers it all with unflinching brutality, mercilessly stabbing and twisting. No one is spared his verbal knife.

Eric Ting directs The Comeuppance with a keen sense of dynamics too. Deftly navigating the peaks and valleys of conflict and the pregnant power of a wordless stare. 

The sound design is crucial in executing the dimension shift that allows Death to interject the sparring, a garbled rumble added under the voices of every actor as if Death is in the witness protection program. 

It’s creepy… well, until Death disappointingly demystifies itself by talking rather too much. 

As Ursula and Emilio sit on the porch together Death delivers a rather protracted monologue lauding the human solidarity exhibited during the 2020 pandemic, I was fairly sick of hearing from it. “I thought you were the best version of yourself,” Death beams. 


Oh well. It’s a bit of a weird conclusion to an otherwise well-written story of regret, nostalgia, and death. Maybe Death needs to take a holiday.

Oh, but there is a twist too.  Did we guess who Death was coming for? 


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