Trafalgar Studios, London (***)
I remember Apologia from its first time around, at the Bush Theatre. Then it seemed an extraordinarily acute if honest rebuke to those women of the 1960s and ‘70s, whose allegiance to making their mark and being part of those passionate political times may have blinded them to longer-term repercussions and their `maternal’ duties.
At least, that appears to have been the case with Kaye Campbell’s male progeny, Peter and Simon, the offspring of Kristine, now a feted art historian and sometime electrifying feminist political force. Ah, those were the days when she was forging ahead, making her name.
Now she has written a memoir, an `apologia’ of her `life and times’ that, unexpectedly, blows up in her face, becoming the trigger for a whirlwind of recrimination ostensibly because she has failed to mention her sons at all but more fundamentally, because of her `absence’.
Apologia can be taken any number of ways. The fact she was a `bad’ and `absent’ mother may not have been entirely due to selfish female ambition. There was the small matter, Kaye Campbell mentions, of her estranged (unseen) husband leaving and taking the children with him. But as Joseph Millson’s more tormented sibling, Peter says, `we expected you to come and find us, to fight for us. You never came.’
To his credit, Kaye Campbell leaves the scales fairly evenly matched between Kristine as a monster of egotism and the boys’ sense of hurt and fury. To make it more than acceptable, he also peppers it with caustic one-liners, mainly supplied by Kristine’s gay brother-in-arms, Hugh (an over-ripe Desmond Barritt) but defiantly by Kristine herself, the mistress of cryptic put-downs.
No one, you would think, would do that better than the much beloved Stockard Channing of Grease, The West Wing, Six Degrees of Separation and much more, brought over from the US to properly launch former ATG founders, Howard Panter and Rosemary Squire’s new Trafalgar Entertainment Group era.
But something misfires. True Kristine’s public face and self-preservation instincts have, in the words of her soap-star daughter-in-law, Claire (Freema Agyeman, Martha of Dr Who fame) forced her to acquire a `carapace’ around her.
Channing certainly makes this manifest, exhibiting an automaton like facial and body stiffness that might match Claire’s description but which also seems to leave her unable to truly engage with any of her fellow actors on stage.
As Kristine, an American who ran away to England to escape her own family demons, perhaps there are additional reasons for Channing’s display of `otherness’.
It is a very weird, rather sad experience, a glassy eyed Channing, the larger-than-life Barrit and between them Agyeman’s critical, contemptuous Claire. It is left to Laura (Downtown Abbey) Carmichael’s Trudi, Simon’s American Christian fiancée and the ever reliable Millson (as the banker Simon and troubled Peter) to bring some heart and authenticity to the evening.
Starting out as a figure of fun, it is Trudi to whom Kaye Campbell gives the final, generous, forgiving word. And it is Millson who takes us on a breathless journey with an example of Kristine’s maternal negligence – leaving him alone at a railway station over-night when he was just a child – that makes us feel the depth of loss and damage created by her behaviour.
As director, Jamie Lloyd captures the rapture of those times with music clips of Simon & Garfunkel, The Stones and others. For some of us, it conjures up heady times.
But, for all its debunking laughter – of which there is much thanks to Barrit – Apologia still feels like an indictment of the price paid by offspring of those women/mothers – not the absent men/fathers interestingly – who dared to sacrifice all for their political engagement and feminist endeavour. Which one was Alexi Kaye Campbell, I wonder, Simon or Peter?!
By Alexi Kaye Campbell
Kristin: Stockard Channing
Claire: Freema Agyeman
Hugh: Desmond Barrit
Trudi: Laura Carmichael
Peter/Simon: Joseph Millson
Director: Jamie Lloyd
Set & Costume Designer: Soutra Gilmour
Costume Supervisor: Natalie Pryce
Lighting Designer: Jon Clark
Sound Designer: Ben and Max Ringham
Hair and Wig Designer: Richard Mawbey
Casting Director: Ginny Schiller CDG
US Casting Director: Jim Carnahan CSA
Associate Director: Rupert Hands
Costume Supervisor: Anna Josephs
Producers: Trafalgar Entertainment Group, Eileen Davidson and Just For Laughs Theatricals
First perf of this production of Apologia at Trafalgar Studios, London, Aug 3, 2017. Runs to Nov 18, 2017.
World premiere of Apologia at the Bush Theatre, London, July 2009.
Review published on this site, Aug 15, 2017