When I went: 31 July 2017
Location: Trafalgar Studios, London
Performers: Stockard Channing (Kristin), Freema Agyeman (Claire), Desmond Barrit, Laura Carmichael (Trudi), Joseph Millson (Simon / Peter)
Creative team: Jamie Lloyd (director), Alexi Kaye Campbell (playwright), Soutra Gilmour (set and costume designer)
Approximate price: £95
Special points: Dark comedy and charisma of main actors
Best bit: Dinner scene
If I could change one thing: Less OTT outrage from son characters
Apologia is one of those plays that takes place entirely within one set, allowing for both detail in the set design and focus on the performances and connections between the characters. It is set just after Barack Obama’s election as President but refers almost constantly to a previous time – namely, the 1960s and 1970s when Kristin, the lead character, was part of an anti-establishment movement (described variously as communist, feminist and liberal).
Most of the play explores the character of Kristin and whether or not she was justified in acting as she did (both then and more recently) in pursing her career as an art historian and effectively ‘abandoning’ her sons and ignoring them in her professional memoir. The other characters revolve around her, issuing various judgments and trying to make a connection with her at various points. Ultimately, whether or not the audience likes Kristin enough to empathise with her will probably depend on the performances of the actors you see. The female characters – Kristin and her sons’ girlfriends Claire and Trudi – are much more interesting than the men and provide different and interesting perspectives on feminism, money, work and religion. Kristin’s gay friend is unfortunately given some boring ‘gay stereotype’ jokes but when he is allowed to provide a different view on her character, he becomes more valuable to the plot.
It is difficult to think of any performance by Stockard Channing that is not engaging, and she was really mesmerising on stage and brought a lot of different colours to her portrayal of Kristin. Freema Agyeman was sparky and funny as Claire (in her stage debut) and Laura Carmichael was brilliant as Trudi – managing to bring depth and some steel to what could be a boring and annoyingly optimistic all-American young woman character in Trudi.
It is probably a testament to the performance of Joseph Millson that my partner Owl and I didn’t notice that he played both Simon and Peter until after the play – the brothers are so different and (obviously!) never appear together, and their scenes have such different tones.
There were plenty of funny moments to lighten the mood in this play, but it didn’t shy away from making some interesting points about the first wave of feminist women having to sacrifice a lot to pave the way for the women who came after them, and about women (and perhaps especially, mothers) being judged by extraordinary high standards.