Theatre, Drama
3 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(10user reviews)

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Stockard Channing brings her acting chops to bear on this formulaic dinner party play

Director Jamie Lloyd used to be an almost permanent fixture at Trafalgar Studios, volleying out bloody, bold, brilliant reinventions of classic plays aimed squarely at a younger audience.

His revival of Alexi Kaye Campbell’s second play ‘Apologia’ feels like an incongrously middle aged return, with only a pinch of his usual stylistic pizzazz (a splash of blood and a few thrilling shards of rock playing out around the interval).

This revival boasts a bigger-name cast than the original 2009 Bush production, foremost Broadway heavyweight – and the onetime Rizzo from ‘Grease’ – Stockard Channing, as formidable art historian Kristin, who is hosting a dinner party (possibly the most overused set-up for a play ever). Invited are her two sons Peter and Simon (both Joseph Millson – strangely ungimmicky), and their partners: Trudi (Laura Carmichael), an incandescently annoying American Christian; and Claire {Freema Agyeman], a smart but vulgar soap star – plus Hugh (Desmond Barrit), Kristin’s gay best friend, who makes gay best friend style wisecracks the from the sides.

Being a play set at a dinner party they all end up screaming at each other, as simmering resentments come to a head thanks to Kristin’s new memoir, which fails to make any mention of either of her sons.

‘Apologia’ attempts to tie Kristin’s apparent failings as a parent – and indeed, human being – to her unwavering belief in her fiercely feminist '60s ideas, which she's simply unable to set aside. Something about it just doesn’t hit home though: Channing’s performance is full of pain and intelligence and she delivers a fierce, alluring speech on the power of humanism to Trudi, but the writing doesn’t offer really offer enough to grab on – Kristin never really seems remotely as ideological as everyone suggests she is.

The contrivance of the dinner party set up is wearying (did I mention I'm bored of plays about dinner parties), and despite bright performances from the cast, the supporting characters are grating and cartoonish, especially the vacuous Trudi. ‘Apologia’ does, however, find a sweet spot in the otherworldly central scene win which Kristin is confronted by Simon, who tells her a quiet, devastating story from his childhood.

It’s a solid production from an director who always entertains, but it’s not much of an apologia for the play itself.


Users say (10)

4 out of 5 stars

Average User Rating

4.2 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:6
  • 4 star:2
  • 3 star:0
  • 2 star:2
  • 1 star:0
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Apologia was thoroughly enjoyable, albeit quite distressing at time. Although the setup is far from unique – family reunion, dinner table, drama – the story itself brings up important questions about what it means to be a woman and to make choices as a woman, not always with your family’s immediate needs at the forefront of your mind.

Kristin, played by the brilliant Stockard Channing, was not the perfect mother. She was absent, sometimes. She put her work first, sometimes. She ended up losing custody of her two children. But why did this happen? The answer is not clear-cut, but the explanation comes about through the questions, congratulations and perspicacity of the slightly over the top, yet absolutely lovely Trudi, played by Laura Carmichael. The rest of the cast is brilliant as well: Desmond Barrit brings some much needed levity, 

Freema Agyeman brings real depth to a character that seems superficial at first and Joseph Millson brings to life two brothers who are as different from one another as two people can be. Overall I really enjoyed the play, and the quality of the acting. 

The set was beautifully done as well. There are some lengths here and there in the writing but nothing too bad. A play that I highly recommend.


First thing: Truly avoid tickets for the very first seats. Besides the neck pain you’ll get after looking up for two hours, you won’t see part of the stage.

About the play: Stockard Channing and all actors are good in it, but the text leaves a lot to be desired. The characters are all stereotypes, the intellectual, left wing ‘cold’ mom, and consequently the ‘capitalist’ son – obviously partnered with a Christian woman that wants to win the icy future mother-in-law over – and another son who’s depressed – this partnered with a shallow soap actress – and, because why not, a gay best friend that only opens his month to make camp comments and gags. The conversations try to tell a story, suggest the relationships, but it’s all so cliché: the frustrated dinner, the ‘repressed’ bad opinions everyone has of the others, the love from one another that at will appear in the dénouement... It’s really a pity... 

Stockard Channing is the defining element in this somewhat funny, if yet predictable play. Channing plays a mother and art historian Kristen, who is hosting a dinner party at her house to celebrate her birthday. Invited is her son Peter (Joseph Millson) who bring's his girlfriend Trudi, (Laura Carmichael) an awkward American Christian who seems intent on doing anything to make a good first impression, Claire (Freeman Agyeman) who's the glamorious soap actor girlfriend of Kristin's other reclusive son Simon (also play by Millson). Finally her gay best Hugh (Desmond Barrit) who wisecracks tend to border on tedium, and offers no other particular value to the piece.

Don't go expecting to watch the play of the year, aside from Channing and Carmichael who gave realistic performances with an unrealistic script, the rest of the performances weren't particularly great. Millson delivered one of the most long, boring and undramatic monologues I think I may have ever seen as Simon and instead of being diva actress Claire became more winey and spoilt, which is a shame as Agyeman had a gift of a character and could have pushed her a lot further.

This play is the second I've seen from Kaye Campbell and neither were particularly ground breaking. They are light and easy but are in no way written to reflect the natural movements and interruption's of speech. I am left wondering if this is intentional choice, and if not, it's a shame.

The characters could have been developed to an extent where the audience could understand and ultimately care for them more. Simon is only seen once, for the briefest of moments, before never being seen again but he delivers what could have been the most thoughtful speech of the entire piece, and the only moment Trudi begins to speak her mind, Peter asks her if she is feeling alright! Apart from appearing pretty patronising and fairly dated I felt to much was happening and not one issue was resolved fully enough before we were moved on to the next.

Along with a dodgy slow paced scene change, I was expecting a lot more from director Jamie Lloyd on this altogether disappointing show.


Apologia sees a family attempt to get through a birthday dinner, navigating through their turbulent histories, always keeping a foot in the past. The never ending flashiness we can become accustomed to on the London stage is not present here. It is very well written and all of the cast do a good job of creating real relationships with the flowing dialogue. Notable performances come from Stockard Channing as the family's bedrock, Laura Carmichael as the mousey, religious, always positive new addition and, the show stealer, Desmond Barrit as the flamboyant gay best friend.

The set is a beautiful mock up of a country kitchen. The curved cathode ray shape can't help make you feel like you are watching a large television set where the actors live inside. The play is fast, witty and has a knack of drip feeding you information and back story so that the predictable never quite feels it. 

Ultimately, it is a kitchen sink drama. It constantly provokes the audience into picking sides and highlights the old adage that there are always two sides to a story. The balance it strikes is just right and, outside of young children, I think there is something for everyone in this. Highly recommended. 

I initially went to see this play for the opportunity to see Hollywood legend Stockard Channing on the stage (aka Rizzo from Grease!) - but thankfully Apologia has a lot more going for it than just that.

There’s plenty of humour dotted throughout the play - some of it pretty dark - as the thin veneer of a joyful family reunion slips away within the first 15 minutes.

Channing’s character is at the nucleus of the performance - instigating and guiding both the most tender and the most confrontational moments between family, extended family and acquaintances.

Performances from the entire cast are strong. Despite no set changes to distract there is more than enough punch and verve in the script to keep the audience’s attention throughout - despite this being staged in one of the more uncomfortable theatres in London at Trafalgar Studios.

I would definitely recommend catching this one during its current run.

NORMALLY I seem to agree with the critics but, not at all on this occasion. Three stars?? What turnip heads! I was there last night with all you dandy reviewer fellows and except for an unfortunate encounter with an incredibly rude woman upstairs near the loos, it was a fantastic evening. Here is MY super simple review of it: I rarely (very rarely, thankfully) find myself so captivated by the drama on stage that my mouth hangs open for so long that I actually drool a bit but, it was just so absorbing and so entertaining. I loved it. I loved everything about it - it's thought-provoking, the dialogue's realistic...it's really well acted plus the stage looks like a kitchen photograph from Ideal Home magazine. Oh and, Stockard freakin' Channing is in it. It's great. Ignore any three-star reviews (what nonsense) and just go and watch it and ...ideally... sit quite near the front so you can do lots of facial expression ogling - they're wonderfully good.

A play that will have you giddy with laughter and fraught with melancholy in equal measure. A well thought out comedic drama on the role of motherhood in the 21st century. The cast have a luminous chemistry rarely seen today, with the women shining in particular. Stockard Channing was made for the role and expertly plays the matriarch of her dysfunctional family, seemingly defined by past tragic circumstances. It's a wonderfully personal performance made even more so by the intimate theatre at Trafalgar studios. This is one for the lovers of family and those locked in the struggle to do what is right.


I went to the first night of the previews. I really enjoyed it. The first act is good; funny, arch and sharp. The second act is transformative, I love how it turns your perspective on its head, characters whose motivation changes as we get to know them. The whole cast is good, but this play is really about the women, Laura Carmichael and Freema Agyeman are both outstanding and Stockard Channing is amazing. 

If the reviews are as good as I hope they are, this will be a huge success.

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