3 August 2017
In the programme to the revival of Alexi Kaye Campbell’s Apologia, we are reminded that the title does not mean an apology but a “formal written defence of one’s opinions or conduct”. When we meet its central character, Kristin, a formidable art historian and political activist, we sense that one thing she would never do is apologise. Over the course of less than 24 hours, we start to see her self-possessed poise challenged by devastating reminders of her family’s past to the extent that even an apology no longer feels relevant.
In this new production of a play that premiered at the Bush Theatre in 2008, Alexi Kaye Campbell has reworked his text to make it tauter, and also to explain its lead character’s American accent (to great effect). There are plenty of laughs in the first half as Kristin celebrates her birthday with one of her sons and his girlfriend, later joined by her other son’s wife and an old friend. Tensions flicker beneath the surface as she grills her guests in what is clearly her trademark style of confrontational debate, honed over the years since her involvement in the protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s. But emotions start to run high and the dark undercurrents come to the surface, forcing Kristin to face up to the consequences of the choices she has made in life.
Stockard Channing is outstanding as Kristin, urbane and bitchy but covering up intense emotions that she can barely understand. Joseph Millson is powerfully restrained as her troubled son Simon as well as his more self-assured brother Peter – a clever and effective bit of doubling up made possible by a reworking of the original text that required two actors. Laura Carmichael stands out with a beautifully nuanced performance as Peter’s American girlfriend, Trudi, whose Christian faith and overly positive outlook challenge everything that Kristin stands for. They are well supported by Freema Agyeman as Simon’s wife, an apparently vapid soap actor dealing with her own troubled past, and Desmond Barrit as Kristin’s friend, Hugh – a source of sometimes much-needed light relief. In fact, the intensity of the play is balanced with plenty of humour, not least because of Stockard Channing’s ability to raise a laugh with the most basic of lines.
With a giant picture frame enclosing the proscenium stage, Apologia is a powerful, emotionally charged portrait of a family where a woman’s dedication to political causes and her career have forced her to make sacrifices. These haven’t been financial, judging by the well-appointed kitchen where all the action takes place, designed by Soutra Gilmour, but something much deeper. Tightly directed by Jamie Lloyd, the play offers no black-and-white conclusions but it becomes clear there is a personal price to be paid by idealistic conviction and a commitment to changing the world.
Running to November 18, 2017