Last fall, while visiting London, it was a rare day when we weren’t traveling by double-decker bus from Victoria Street, around Parliament Square, and up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square. We’d pass the old Scotland Yard, Westminster Abbey, Parliament, the government buildings on Whitehall, the Horse Guards Palace, and a rather small building named Trafalgar Studios Theatre. Playing at the time was Apologia. We considered trying to get tickets, but they were few and far between. Certainly, a draw (for us American tourists, at least) were two of the stars – American actress Stockard Channing and Laura Carmichael, aka Lady Edith of Downtown Abbey fame.
So, I bought a copy of the play script.
Apologia by playwright Alexi Kaye Campbell is actually written in two versions, an English one and an American one. It was the American version playing at the Trafalgar, likely to accommodate Ms. Channing. The plays are essentially the same; the difference is the lead character, Kristin Miller, who can be played as an American or a Brit. I read the American version.
Miller is something of a famous art historian, who started out her professional life as a protester. The cause didn’t particularly matter; if she thought it could enough, she was there. She’s now living not far from London, in a charming cottage-like home. It is her birthday, and her two sons are coming to visit for the party, along with their girlfriends. Neither son is particularly happy with their mother’s newly published memoir, which doesn’t even acknowledge their existence. She tries to explain this by saying it was a professional memoir, but that excuse doesn’t survive for long.
As the characters interact, the sons Peter and Simon, the girlfriends Trudi and Claire, and Kristin’s old friend and fellow protester Hugh, it becomes clear that this family is about both what it says and what it doesn’t say. Kristin discovers that Peter met Trudi (an American) at a prayer meeting, and she nearly freaks out at the idea that her son may have found faith. Simon, largely unsuccessful at about anything he tries, is breaking up with the successful soap-opera-star Claire. It’s clear that Kristin likes neither of the women and almost seems to deliberately provoke them. Claire gets incensed and responds; Trudi rather blissfully ignores the sarcasm.
|Alexi Kaye Campbell|
This is a family seething with anger and resentment, and it takes some time to see why.
Campbell was an actor for 20 years, working for such companies as the Royal Shakespeare Company and Hampstead Theatre, before turning to playwriting. His plays include Death in Whitbridge (2008), The Pride (2010), The Faith Machine (2012), Bracken Moor (2013), and Sunset at the Villa Thalia (2016). Five of his plays have been collected and published as Plays One (2017). The Pride won several theater awards when It was written and produced. Campbell was also the scriptwriter for the movies Possession (2002) starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Woman in Gold (2015), starring Helen Mirren.
Apologia slowly builds tension; one begins to suspect that Kristin Miller is almost on the verge of cracking and will do (and say) anything to avoid that. She has to believe she’s in control; she doesn’t seem to understand that her family has become the protestors and she the central authority being protested.
Top photograph: an advertisement for the play at Trafalgar Studios.