Apologia was heavily advertised on the back of Stockard Channing, its most famous cast member, known for playing Rizzo in Grease. Personally I’m no fan of Grease and freely admit it was the presence of Joseph Millson (playing Channing’s two sons) that drew me in. Another factor in its favour was that it was written by Alexi Kaye Campbell, whose plays I have enjoyed in the past.
Channing plays Kristin, an art historian with a commitment to politics and a complicated relationship with her two sons Peter and Simon who, we learn, were brought up by their father for a large part of their childhood. Kristin has recently published a book, Apologia, from which the title of the play is taken. An apologia, we learn, is not an apology but a defence of one’s opinions or conduct. It turns out that Kristin did not mention her sons at all in this, her supposed autobiography, an omission which neither is particularly happy about. Over the course of the play, both sons visit her and old resentments come to the surface.
Apologia explores what I think is a hugely relevant theme for today: the relationship between an individual’s political beliefs and their personal choices, or how the political and the personal feed into each other. It’s feminist in tone, showing how Kristin as a female academic was a trailblazer, helping to change the world for a generation of women. Kristin’s situation explores the age-old conflict between career and children. She is not perfect, and her sons’ resentment is to an extent understandable, but she is also hugely sympathetic and admirable.
Channing gives a very good performance, while Joseph Millson is superb as both Peter and Simon, the one a successful banker, the other a would-be writer suffering a mental breakdown. I also really liked Laura Carmichael as Peter’s girlfriend whose Christian sweetness and naivety is comic yet also admirable.
I didn’t really know what to expect from this play, but it made a strong impression on me and I definitely recommend it.