LET US cut to the chase (and I make no apology for saying this). Apologia is a cracking play which I urge you to go and see before its run ends mid next month at Trafalgar Studios just off Trafalgar Square.
It is a marvel on so many levels. Written by Alexi Kaye Campbell (The Pride, Sunset at the Villa Thalia), it hones in on anglicised American Kristin as she greets family and friends at home on her birthday. Greets is being too kind. Empathy and warmth are traits Kristin has long forgotten.
Kristin, played quite brilliantly by Stockard Channing (Betty Rizzo in Grease), is an ageing intellectual (an art historian) but not a particularly pleasant one.
She is very much a product of the 1960s. Protests against the Vietnam War and buckets of free love. It explains why 60’s music (the Tremeloes and Simon & Art Garfunkel) is playing in the studio’s bars before the show begins.
But Kristin is also waspish, acerbic, sneering and happy to put down anyone who does not live up to her high expectations. She is a viper quite willing to spit venom at anyone and everyone.
Her relationship with sons Peter and Simon (both played by Joseph Millson) is at best fraught as we soon discover (she divorced, leaving them to grow up with their father) .
First into Kristin’s lair step Peter (an international banker) and girlfriend Trudi (Laura Carmichael). Trudi, a fellow American, is a physiotherapist and a committed Christian – a combination that immediately gets Kristin’s hackles up. She is disparaging towards the cloying Trudi – so horrible indeed that it makes you cringe to observe it. For the most part, Trudi is oblivious to the daggering looks she gets from Kristin – and to the volley of barbed comments.
At one stage, Kristin suggests that Trudi is built to have children. It is as disparaging a comment as she could make, indicating she is fit for little else.
They are soon joined by Kristin’s long standing gay friend Hugh (a delightful Desmond Barrit) and Claire, Simon’s girlfriend (a quite beautiful and talented Freema Agyeman). Over a take away Chinese meal, Kristin showers vitriol all over Claire, an actress whom she demeans for appearing in a soap. A phone call that Kristin answers on Claire’s mobile does not help the actress’s cause.
It all makes for absorbing watching as Claire (wearing a £2,000 Japanese designer dress) gives as good as she gets while Hugh delivers an avalanche of witty remarks.
It ends up in a complete meltdown (a dog’s dinner) as a simmering Peter finally explodes, challenging his mother on why she left out any detail of him and Simon in her memoirs.
The final piece in this nightmare of a family jigsaw is Simon who arrives late and bloodied. A failed writer, it is his turn to lay into Kristin, a process that exposes her brittleness. He wants to know why as a young child he was left to fend for himself in Florence because she failed to turn up, leaving him in the hands of a sexual predator.
There is no doubt 73 year old Channing is the star of the show. Not just because of the way vileness spews from her mouth with ease. Her look, her eyes, her demeanour, say just as much. A tour de force, displaying a vulnerability – caused by ageing and regrets – under a very hard exterior.
Yet Channing is run close by all four support actors. Millson is so good at creating distinctive characters for Peter and Simon that I did not realise he was playing both until the final curtain call.
As for Agyeman (better known as Martha Jones in Doctor Who), she is surely a star of the future. The exchanges between her and Channing are the highlight of the evening. Verbal tennis par excellence. Eyeballing and more besides.
Throw in a great set put together by Soutra Gilmour, superb direction by Jamie Lloyd and you have all the ingredients for a great night out. At times, pinteresque.
You have until November 18 to see it. Don’t miss out. See it, absorb, cringe and walk out at the end better for the experience. No apologies please.
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Kristin: Stockard Channing
Claire: Freema Agyeman
Hugh: Desmond Barrit
Trudi: Laura Carmichael
Peter/Simon: Joseph Millson
Author: Alexi Kaye Campbell
Director: Jamie Lloyd
Set and costume designer: Soutra Gilmour