Wednesday, 23 August 2017
Apologia at Trafalgar Studios
Having got over “the elephant in the room”, namely Stockard Channing’s severe facial work, I was able to really enjoy Jamie Lloyd’s effective and caustically hilarious production of Alexi Kaye Campbell’s play, Apologia. However, the American actress’s inability to show any flicker of visual emotion doesn’t in any way help to imbue her brittle Kristin with anything resembling warmth, maternal or otherwise. Obviously an extremely accomplished actress, I’m afraid she didn’t manage to persuade me that her character has any redeeming qualities.
A far left, sixties radical and art historian, Kristin is the mother (in title only it seems) of two sons, Peter and Simon. An avid Humanist, she still eschews the beliefs she held dear all those years ago, namely total hatred of Capitalism and Christianity. On the other hand, she is obviously in favour of hypocrisy, seeing as how she lives a far from frugal lifestyle and chooses to ignore that the religion she abhors gave birth to the human rights she claims to love. And, as for being a Humanist, are you kidding me? Anyone less entrenched in humanity would be almost impossible to find …. although she is deeply in love with herself. Never able to see anyone’s else’s point of view, Kristin is very much a “let’s talk about me” kind of person.
The play is set in Kristin’s homely (now that’s an anomaly) country kitchen, beautifully realised by Designer Soutra Gilmour and Jon Clark’s lighting. It’s her birthday and the first visitors to arrive to celebrate are embittered son Peter (Joseph Millson) and new American girlfriend, Trudi (Laura Carmichael). The poor girl is introduced to her future mother-in-law’s acid tongue almost immediately having chosen a Liberian tribal mask as a birthday present. “It’s main purpose was clearly not decorative”, retorts the recipient, followed by more withering put downs once she realises that Trudi is an avid Christian and met Peter at, horror of horrors, a prayer meeting.
With the arrival of Simon’s girlfriend (Freema Agyeman), a soap actress with a penchant for designer clothing, these disparaging remarks flow fast and furiously. The only person who seems to be exempt from the often very amusing, if acerbic, diatribes, is her old friend, Hugh (Desmond Barrit) a gloriously funny old queen. He is also the only one who appears to understand that there is a beating heart beneath the granite like exterior. Mind you, a glimmer of tenderness does emerge during the fleeting visit by Simon (also played by Joseph Millson). Carefully removing shards of glass from the palm of his hand, Kristin listens as her very troubled son tells her about a disturbing childhood incident, caused by her failure to collect him from a station platform. Despite the Florence Nightingale act this mother from Hell is unable to apologise, or even admit she was in the wrong, instead acknowledging his sad tale by retiring to bed.
The acting all round is very sound and Laura Carmichael is a revelation. Perfecting an extremely proficient American accent, she brings a touching naivety to the kindly Trudi who, despite her nervousness, is able to stand her ground when needed. Joseph Millson is excellent in both roles, but is particularly affecting when the “broken” Simon revisits his seven-year-old self, waiting for his mother.
Kay Campbell’s attempts to exonerate Kristin’s behaviour at the end of his play didn’t cut any ice with me, I’m afraid and I felt no pity seeing her slumped at the kitchen table after all her guests have left. Will she ruminate on her sons’ anger and hurt and realise her failings? I very much doubt it.