A review by Douglas Kennedy
Apologia by Alexi Kaye Campbell
By arrangement with ORiGin Theatrical on behalf of Nick Hern Books
Directed by Steven Days
Javeenbah Theatre Company, Nerang
Season 19 May – 3 June 2023
Bookings: [email protected]
Duration: Two hours (plus interval)
Ensemble: Jenny White, Tabitha Woods, Jessica White, Dominic Bradley, Stephen Nash.
A seemingly happy family get together, coated with a thin veneer of fake smiles and awkward stances, is the classic curtain opener to many domestic comedies and dramas.
In Apologia it’s mum’s birthday and the clan has gathered to raise a glass and cut the cake, but beneath the surface people are seething.
That’s because they have come to the party with a life-time of pent up emotions, which are just about ready to erupt.
In this case it’s the birthday for former activist and well-known art historian, Kristen Miller, who has also just had her memoir published.
One of the problems is the Life and Times of Kristen Miler makes no mention of her two sons, who were largely brought up by their father.
He had taken them away as small children and mum, American-born 1970s activist Kristen (Jenny White), had focused on her political activism and work.
The boys Peter and Simon (both played by Dominic Bradley thanks to some smart plotting by playwright Alexi Kaye Campbell) don’t have the full story.
That coupled with Kristen’s lack of a full appreciation of what happened to the boys, and how they felt about growing up without mum, simply adds fuel to the fire.
I suspect that fire is possibly fueled further by all the champers quaffed in the first act as first born son Peter who turns up with new born again Christian girlfriend Trudi (Jessica) and then Simon’s girl, Clare (Tabitha Woods), arrives.
Making up the gathering in the first half is long-time activist and self-confessed gay Hugh (Stephen Nash).
The other son Simon, who we learn early in the piece is more sensitive and damaged by his mum’s behavior, turns up later with explosive results.
The key to Apologia, which incidentally means a formal defense of one’s opinions or conduct, is the powerful character of Kristen.
She’s an outspoken, uncompromising classical 1970s feminist in the tradition of a Germaine Greer, who is loath to backdown.
Characters such as American Trudi, who is sweet and compassionate while being Christian and somewhat innocent bordering on naïve, is as a red rag to a bull with Kristen.
Likewise, she finds Simon’s actress girlfriend, Clare, who has distain for her previous activism dismissing it as ridiculous, an irritant.
There’s plenty of comic-drama along the way as Kristen pares with Trude and Clare at times before the main bout with sons first Peter and later Simon.
There’s only long-time friend and one-tine fellow activist Hugh in Kristen’s corner and he has his own chance to vent his outrage later in the play.
Hugh’s off hand flippancy for much of the play gives it the good humour needed to give it balance.
Despite the dysfunctional family clashes there’s plenty of witty opportunities and a certain amount of comic deflection in Apologia.
It is strange how something we might experience in real-life with embarrassment appears to be bordering on the amusing on stage.
There’s something about putting a human experience on a pedestal – in the spotlight – which makes it less threatening.
Apologia, with its dense dialogue and rustic kitchen setting in the English countryside outside London, is a challenging for both actors and director Stephen Days.
There’s a large table setting in the centre of the stage, which is always in danger of creating a barrier between the actors and the audience, but the personality clashes and the scene, featuring Kristen and her troubled son, Simon, work quite well.
This production has much to offer willing audiences, but patrons should be warned that the language is wild and at times the so-called F -word comes quite freely.
It is good to see our theatre companies making the stretch with new and demanding works loaded with confronting material.
Photo credits: Jeff Butterworth (Buttery Smooth)