REVIEW: Apologia (Trafalgar Studios) ★★★★

Apologia: a formal written defence of one’s opinions or conduct

They say you should never wash your dirty laundry in public, but if your mother writes her so-called memoirs, you’d probably expect a mention.

Renowned art historian Kristin (Stockard Channing) however, does not give one sentence to either of her sons (both played by Joseph Millson). Needless to say they’re far from impressed and when the family get together to celebrate her birthday, the truth is bound to come out. Especially with two girlfriends in the mix, who try (and fail) to keep the peace.

Author Alexi Kaye Campbell has tried really hard with his material. There’s an interesting background story, family drama, plus a good dose of history, politics and religion.

Yet one character feels unnecessary. Kristin’s GBF Hugh (Desmond Barrit) is there for no other reason than to defend her actions and lighten the mood with forced comedy. He says little of value, providing innuendo and gay jokes to relieve the tension. Sadly, this serves only to distract from the story itself, which is actually rather poignant.

The background story touches on the political tensions of the 1960s when Kristin and Hugh demonstrated against everything and nothing. Her life seems shrouded in mystery: her role in these protests, the real reason she lost her children and how she feels about her actions.

Characters are diverse and bound to clash, with glamorous soap star Claire (Freema Agyeman) a polar opposite to Trudi (Laura Carmichael), an American physiotherapist student who met Kristin’s son at a prayer meeting. The only similarity between these two women is their stark contrast to their partners’ mother. Sparks (and food) will fly and mess up the aesthetics of Soutra Gilmour’s incredible set.

The cast complement each other nicely and the acting is excellent. Carmichael is pitch perfect as Trudi, annoyingly prim and trying too hard (although dressed surprisingly casual for her future mother-in-law’s birthday dinner). You just want to slap her. Agyeman is wickedly feisty and blasé.

Channing is remarkable. She portrays a strong, independent woman but her vulnerability and cares are clear throughout. While her character is as detestable as the rest of them, she somehow manages to evoke a reaction of pity.

It’s not perfect by any means and Act I does drag on a bit. It’s also a shame that Simon has very little stage time; his brief appearance also feels slightly forced, with no real resolution for his character. However, there’s something about Apologia that really makes you think.

Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes
Photo: Marc Brenner