Sunday, 6 August 2017

Review Apologia

by Alexi Kaye Campbell

The Last Supper

It's a luxurious country kitchen on the birthday of Kristin, an American-born divorced Marxist academic in her sixties. She's awaiting a fellow veteran of radical 1960s' politics and  her two sons, whom she hardly ever sees, with their partners for a celebration dinner

Peter who is in banking arrives punctually with his physiotherapist girlfriend Trudi while Simon, preceded by his TV actress wife, creeps in more surreptitiously.

Kristin was an activist during the anti-Vietnam war marches in Grosvenor Square and the Paris student demos of 1968. A bundle of hurt and recriminations soon emerges triggered by Kristin's just published memoirs, which she claims were written only to chart her professional life, where her two children fail to get a mention. 

This play was originally staged in 2009 on the intimate stage of the Bush Theatre before it moved to its present venue. It may be something is lost in a larger venue. There's nothing wrong with what is there, but this family drama feels frustratingly under-developed.

Frustrating especially because the juxtaposition of banking, evangelical Christianity, television fame, academia and the legacy of 1968 with the personal cost to a woman and her family is an attractive and thought-provoking premise. 

Nevertheless it remained for TLT  a play of five characters in search of a plot.  Jamie Lloyd directs a solid, straightforward production. There is a marvellously detailed widescreen set from Soutra Gilmour with just a glimpse of a corridor through an open door and a Renaissance portrait with a young woman's telling glance.

However while Stockard Channing is fine as blinkered old leftie and mother Kristin, she is a curiously passive character around whom the others circulate and comment.

Laura Carmichael as Christian evangelist Trudi shines brightest of the satellites with a naturalness in  turning often unforgiving lines into thoughtful responses in  this family drama.

Otherwise Joseph Milson doubles as Kristin's sons, Peter and brother Simon, both isolated in their own way by their parents' actions. Freeman Agyeman is the actress, increasingly estranged from Simon, who reveals her own motivations in life as well as art. Desmond Barrit makes the best of a stereotypical wisecracking gay best friend, a veteran also of the 1960s' protesting frontline.

Our googling reveals the term apologia - from the Greek - to be "A formal written defence of one's opinions or conduct", a rhetorical format not to be confused with apology as an expression of regret.

In some ways, TLT felt, this play tries to combine the two with the unrepentent activist having put forth in print a defence of what she calls her professional life and her sons yearning for something more from her - perhaps something less a defence and more an apologetic understanding of what has happened to all of them.

Yet the nitty gritty exploration is not there - the trial, just or unjust, a show trial or a genuine investigation - never comes. We're never quite sure about the nature of Kristin's past actions or her perceived fault in anything but the most general terms.

The characters are there, but the issues seem thinly drawn with digressions, even if we may suspect the play teeters on the verge of asking whether if she were a man and a father instead of a mother, the same reproaches would be there.

The potentially most interesting relationship is that between Kristin and her prospective American daughter-in-law Trudi, who doesn't pretend to be an intellectual and met Kristin's son Peter at a prayer meeting. However this is a drama which may have looked better on the drawing board than on stage. 

Practically each character has his or her own moment of "apologia" but, for us it felt stretched out and it's an amber light.

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