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That was July in London Theatre land with a bumper crop of announcements and thesp spots

Review and production pictures: The art of acerbic wit and self defence in Apologia, Trafalgar Studios

Production photos by Marc Brenner

The kitchen set of Alexi Kaye Campbell's play Apologia is framed like a picture. Later art historian and successful writer Kristin (Stockard Channing) will describe a moment of revelation she had when looking at a renaissance painting but as family and friends are reunited for her birthday dinner that won't be the only revelation.

Kristin is smart, acerbic, pragmatic and opinionated - she certainly doesn't hold back. She protested in the 1960s, is an atheist and has a picture of Karl Marx in her downstairs loo. Her son Peter (Joseph Millson) works for a bank "that rapes the third world" and Simon (also Joseph Millson) can't keep a job and is suffering from depression. Neither are impressed that their mother has omitted them from her recently published biography - it re-opens old wounds.

Peter's girlfriend Trudi (Laura Carmichael) is the type of American Kristin says she left the States to get away from. She is nice, vanilla sweet and an easy target for Kristin's sarcasm: "You're a Christian, I'm thrilled for you.". Simon's girlfriend Claire (Freema Agyeman) is also an easy target: She is an actress on a soap opera. Having been impressed by a performance Claire gave in a fringe production of The Doll's House Kristin is disappointed by her career direction - and penchant for designer dresses. Kristin seeks an authenticity of purpose in people to match that of her own. However, it takes someone Kristin doesn't expect to expose it as a mask, as a means of self preservation and self defence.

Kristin is a rich and complex character and Stockard Channing's skill is not only in teasing out all the wit and humour in the dialogue but in also making you sympathise. In fact it is a play of interesting female characters, all clever and insightful in their own way although it might not immediately be obvious.

Joseph Millson gets the fun of playing two different and contrasting brothers - there is a scene where, as Simon, he opens up to his mother that will have you holding your breath until the moment it punches you in the gut.

Apologia is a play of sharp humour and depth that slowly breaks down the defences to reveal something raw and emotional.  You will laugh and you will have a lump in your throat and I'm giving it five stars. It's two hours and 25 minutes including an interval and definitely worth a look. See it at Trafalgar Studios until November 18.

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