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Review: Apologia, at Trafalgar Studios

Audience members are happy guests at a revelatory dinner party that features a delicious performance from Stockard Channing

10 August, 2017 — By Catherine Usher

Stockard Channing as Kristin in Apologia. Photo: Marc Brenner

THIS isn’t a kitchen sink drama in the usual sense, in that the sink is tucked behind a sprawling dining table, presumably in a lovely, spacious house (we only get to see the one room) but, all the same, a gripping drama unfolds here.

Once the audience gets over the fact they are in the presence of real-life Rizzo from Grease, nearly 40 years on and still a husky-voiced vamp, we are treated to a skilfully acted tale of independence, confrontation, comedy and contempt.

At the helm of this family drama, Stockard Channing is sensational as the cutesy-free art historian mother, Kristin, whose detached approach to parenting has put her two sons into a perpetual state of emotional neediness. Peter’s solution comes in the form of the wonderfully warm Trudi, played with conviction by Laura Carmichael (it turns out that Lady Edith from Downton Abbey can do a cracking American accent).

She’s the opposite to the emotionally aloof, acerbic Kristin. And, to add insult to injury, as far as Kristin’s concerned, she’s a nauseatingly happy-clappy Christian.

Writer Alexi Kaye Campbell seems to be of the opinion that any sane person is agnostic at best, but it’s quite encouraging that wholesome Trudi, who is presented as a bit of a Bible-basher, is actually the sanest, kindest guest at the dinner party.

Kristin’s boys (both played by Joseph Millson) are both pretty self-absorbed and damaged in their own way, but it’s fascinating to see how their respective partners rise to the challenge when standing head-to-head with their mother.

The dynamics between Kristin and her two potential daughters-in-law are intriguing. While Trudi is generous and understanding, Claire (Freema Agyeman) is self-serving and combative. Enjoyably, it’s never quite clear who Kristin has the most respect for, or rather the least hostility towards.

Ultimately, this production, although formulaic in its construction – Kristin’s gay bestie, Hugh, (Desmond Barrit) even chips in with the well-timed witty comments when the tension gets too much – is expertly portrayed. The cast unites to create an engaging, lively, revelatory dinner party that the audience members seem delighted to be guests at.

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