Stockard Channing (The West Wing, Grease and many, many more) hosts this family get together on her birthday in Alexi Kaye Campbell’s Apologia at the Trafalgar Studio. She, a succesful art historian and former radical student and 60s revolutionary, is the lightning conductor for her sons – and to a lesser extent, their girlfriends – who we discover are massively upset they are not mentioned in her recent memoirs. Even though this was an account of her working life rather than the personal.
We glimpse a broken marriage, the young sons spirited away by a father who is never fully formed. But surely there must be more to it than that.
To a certain extent it’s these gaps in the canvass that make it such a complete painting. Unlike many plays about family affairs where we care little about any of the characters (yes Hamlet, I mean you) here we want to know more. There seemed to be real emotion generated in the kitchen set. More than would be sparked by the surface plot lines.
And I think that is what struck a cord with the audience. Everyone could recognise their own family gatherings where the tension is raised by the back-story which is known to the participants but not the observers. Here we had a chance to side with, to understand, to sympathise with all of the characters. Or none, as we pleased.
Channing played the fading radical – her picture of Marx relegated from pride of place to the downstairs loo – as a tough, feisty feminist still calling out her banker son for his lack of ethical trading. But she she also seemed to be going through the motions. For old time’s sake.
She was more than ably supported by the four other members of the cast (both sons played by Joseph Millson) and the sharp script was witty and poignant by turns. Desmond Barrit was magnificent as Hugh, the gay friend and confidant of the matriarch Kristin. The acerbic wit of the character and the comic timing of the player was certainly reminiscent of many a Falstaff. And, indeed, it would have only needed a couple more laugh out loud moments to turn this into a full blown comedy of manners.
I was left with questions unanswered and instead of the usual shrug of the shoulders I was wanting to see the play again. Or at least to read the script, to see if I’d missed the answers elsewhere.
There were a few empty seats for the performance I saw. If you get a chance, fill them up. You won’t be disappointed.