Occasionally you get an opportunity in life so rare that you have to grasp it by the neck and relish it with everything you’ve got. Yesterday was one such day.
My sister and I travelled to London for various reasons and decided to stop by the TKTS booth on the off chance we could get cheap tickets to see Apologia before it closes on the 18th. I mean Stockard Channing live on the West End? That’s a lifetime dream come true for this former drama student. Turns out not only were we in luck but a further turn of luck on arrival at the Trafalgar Studios meant we got upgraded from Row P to Row J.
I’m going to be honest here and say that Trafalgar Studios isn’t brilliantly accessible but they have made some changes to the theatres that do make it easier, and on a day where I was using my sticks it was easy enough to navigate, and the staff were more than helpful. A huge shout out to them all for ensuring my safety and comfort throughout.
I mentioned earlier that I’m a former drama student. But the truth is I don’t think that ever leaves you. I found myself looking at the picture frame set with interest whilst waiting for the play to begin, noticing the small details that made the production that little more intriguing. It was clear that every little piece of set dressing had a function even if it wasn’t directly obvious and it was beautiful.
A quintessential English kitchen through the eyes of an American. That was the impression it gave and it fit Channing’s character of Kirstin Miller, an American Art History specialist and activist who had escaped America as a young woman for a life in the UK.
The use of lighting was beautiful and the thunderstorm before the interval deserves a special mention here as it can often be difficult to pull off a convincing thunderstorm in such an intimate auditorium space, but it was spectacular.
The advantage of seeing a play near the end of a run is often that the cast are so comfortable and gelled by this point that the production is seamless. But it can also be a downfall. With Apologia however, it’s definitely the former rather than the latter. The performances were outstanding. For a play that relies heavily on dialogue, and monologue, it easily pulls you in and allows you to forget the world outside.
Freema Agyeman astounded me with the diversity and depth of her performance. Her character of Claire starting out as an annoying bubblehead but slowly revealing herself to be much more. The tender revelation scene with Kristin whilst everyone else is out of the kitchen had tears in my eyes, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried more than once during the performance.
Trudi, played by Laura Carmichael, with her annoying American Evangelical Christianity claptrap actually proved to be the most compelling of the younger characters, I went from wanting to stick her head in Kristin’s defunct oven to actually quite liking her by the end. Even if she was still a little sickly sweet. Her transition throughout was the most profound I think.
Hugh’s (Desmond Barrett) effervescent, self-deprecating gayness reminded me of the drag queen fairy godfathers in my life. Men of a certain age who fought in their day for the rights that we enjoy now whilst continuing to fight for further rights. He was sweet and kind and particularly drôle. But there was also that wonderfully sharp acidic tongue that underlies it all.
Peter and Simon, Kristin’s ‘neglected’ sons being played by one actor was genius and a clear display of Joseph Millson’s talents. The more forthright Peter who has been able for o find a way forward for himself is actually on reflection, perhaps the more damaged of the two. Whilst Simon, who has a history with mental health issues and whose punctuated staccato speech emphasises the effort with which he puts his point across, has clearly done more work to reach a point of self-realisation. The polar opposites of the characters showed a varied range from a versatile Millson.
That brings me to Stockard Channing as Kristin. By no means am I saving the least for last. As I said earlier, I have been a life long fan of this enigmatic actor. Whilst other kids were obsessed with Sandy, I wanted to be Rizzo. As a teenager (and even now), I wanted to grow up to have half as much sass as Aunt Jet in Practical Magic, or Dr Bartlett in The West Wing. Ms. Channing’s voice was, and still is a regular sound in my home, so seeing her performance last night was a true pleasure.
The way in which she captivates an audience from the moment she walks on stage, is striking. Each character I’ve ever seen her play, whilst carrying that wonderfully recognisable timbre, is so very different and striking from the last, but they all have one thing in common, Ms. Channing plays strong females, and Kristin is no different.
There were points her humour was so cutting you felt sorry for the person it was aimed at despite the fact you were laughing with her, times you could feel your chest clenched as hers did, but nothing prepared me for the gut wrenching tears that Ms. Channing’s performance pulled out of me at more than one point during the evening.
I’m in complete and utter awe as I write this over a cappuccino this morning. If I wasn’t heading back to Yorkshire tonight, and if I had the money, I’d spend the next few days in the audience of every remaining performance of Apologia, with my sister by my side. It truly is an utter gem amongst the productions currently on offer in the West End.