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A CurtainUp London London Review
Apologia


I woke up one morning and realized that pretty much everything we are and everything we do is a response against you.— Simon to his mother Kristin
Alexi Kaye Campbell's first play about gay men The Pride won awards. His second play, Apologia is about two sons and their mother Kristin (Paola Dionisotti), an art critic and Marxist peace activist of the 1960s. It's about the tensions in a family when the grown up sons are in a position to challenge their mother for her perceived behavior to them as children. Josie Rourke directs with great skill allowing the generic family themes to emerge.

Kristinrecently published book about her life which fails to mention her sons. Now in her sixties and visiting her at her house in the country for her birthday are both her sons and their partners. Peter (Tom Beard) is in his forties, a banker with an American fiancée Trudi (Sarah Goldberg). Peter's mother takes issue with Peter's job and the fact that Trudi is a Christian and they met at a prayer meeting. Both his occupation in the financial world and the adoption of Christianity are seen by Kristin as an affront on her values and lifestyle. They are joined by Kristin's old friend, a gay man Hugh (Philip Voss), and soap actress Claire (Nina Sosanya) and her younger son Simon (John Light), failing novelist, and hislive in girlfriend. In the second act, Simon comes home in the middle of the night, out of work and clinically depressed with glass in his hand from falling on a broken bottle. His mother tenderly removes the splinters of glass, reliving what should have been the parent child relationship. Next morning at breakfast Peter, Trudi, Claire and Hugh see Kristin and say goodbye.

The family dysfunction focuses on the sons who hate their mother and makess little mention of the father that brought them up after the age of 9 and 7; but, clearly, like the victor of a war, the parent who has custody of the children gets to write the family history. The boys feel abandonment by their mother which may not be the actuality but it doesn't really matter because it's their perception which has formed their current attitudes.

The performances are stellar. Paola Dionisotti's cranky and gnarled mother, Tom Beard whom I often think of as the Poor Man's Colin Firth, seething under the surface of the colourless banker, John Light as the hapless and hopeless Simon who is storing up an incident from when his mother failed to meet him in Genoa when he was eleven. The young women are excellent too, Nina Sosanya's actress settling for less prestige and more money and Sarah Goldberg's delightfully gauche American Pollyanna style Trudi. As a loyal and enduring friend, Philip Voss' Hugh adds an ally to Kristin against the forces lined up against her.

Peter McKintosh's farmhouse kitchen set reflects Kristin's sense of the aesthetic and nthe African mask present chosen by Trudi is not well received by Kristin. Alexi Kaye Campbell's gift for observant intelligent dialogue zings off the page.

In the first act Kristin lives up to her sons' image of her, as a prize bitch caring for no-one except her art and her politics. She is unpleasant and caustic but her outrageous asides are also deeply comic. The contrast between her and naïve, almost gushing but sweet natured Trudi couldn't be more accentuated. Claire who is condemned for her materialistic life, has a taste for designer clothes and expensive living explained by her grindingly poor background: her father was always in debt. The point Campbell is making is that our lives may always be reactive as we endeavour not to repeat the mistakes of our parents.

With top priced seats at just £15 The Bush is the most reliable theatre value in London.

Apologia
Written by Alexi Kaye Campbell
Directed by Josie Rourke

Starring: Paola Dionisotti, Tom Beard, Sarah Goldberg, John Light, Nina Sosanya, Philip Voss.
Design: Peter McKintosh
Lighting: Hartley T A Kemp
Sound: Emma Laxton
Running time: Two hours 20 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 020 7610 4224
Booking to 18th July 2009
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 26th June 2009 performance at The Bush Theatre, Shepherd's Bush Green, London W12 (Tube: Shepherd's Bush)

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