Shipwreck, Almeida Theatre, review: ‘Full of a fantasmagoric energy’

‘Strong performance’: Fisayo Akinade as Mark. Photograph: Marc Brenner

To put oneself in another’s shoes: this is perhaps the fundamental challenge in a polarised political world.

Anne Washburn’s Shipwreck, premiering at the Almeida under the direction of Rupert Goold, is a compelling exploration of the American moral landscape in Trump time.

Mark (Fisayo Akinade) was born in Kenya and adopted by a conservative Christian farming couple in upstate New York.

Now a metropolitan sophisticate and father, he has to grapple with the huge rifts in American society that have revealed themselves.

So he imagines the other – the African-American experience of slavery that his own forbears never knew, the political reasoning of his Trump-supporting parents, and the self-righteous outrage of white liberals.

The cast of Shipwreck. Photograph: Marc Brenner

In the ensuing mix of impassioned debate, mythic re-enactment and meditative reflection, James Comey (Khalid Abdalla), George W. Bush (Fisayo Akinade) and Donald Trump himself (Elliot Cowan) all make appearances.

The performance takes a while to gain energy, languishing for perhaps a bit too long in arid discussions of the purpose of theatre that give this part of the play a slightly dated feel.

But when it finally does get going, it gets really good.

The final scenes are full of a fantasmagoric energy that carries the audience through from despair to a vertiginous sense of being on the precipice of a new – and possibly better – era.

Fisayo Akinade’s strong performance grounds the production, while Khalid Abdalla is also especially good as Yusuf, the mesmerisingly conflicted New York solicitor.

Shipwreck is on until 30 March at Almeida Theatre, Almeida Street, N1 1TA.