Families are funny things aren’t they? They can love, protect and defend you like no one else on earth. They can also wound and mess you up like no other. Such is the case in Apologia by Alexi Kaye Campbell in this funny, touching and brutal family drama.

Stockard Channing (West Wing, The Good Wife but to many she’ll always be Rizzo in Grease) makes a welcome appearance on the West End stage as terrifying matriarch Kristin. It is her birthday and her two sons along with partners descend upon her home to celebrate over dinner. Kristin has just had a book published to great acclaim detailing her life as a political activist and renowned art historian. Much to their distress she completely fails to mention her two sons whom she lost custody of when they were young. Throw a load of alcohol into the mix and tensions and grievances start flying like cat fur.

The dysfunctional family dinner as a theatrical device is well-worn. Campbell’s dialogue is mostly on point however the devices used to get characters off the stage so others can have their ‘moment’ are clumsy. That aside, his script is aided by a universally strong cast that make us relish in being a fly on the wall for the evening.

Channing is mesmerising as Kristin. She conveys so much by doing so little with a stare that can both captivate or chill you to the core. She is blessed with killer one liners however I question why anyone would stay in the house amidst such blatant rudeness. However, her behaviour reveals a damaged and broken soul who is haunted by the decisions she made and the subsequent consequences.

Laura Carmichael is delightful as the American Christian girlfriend of son Peter. Her flawless accent and comedy timing are exceptional. Joseph Millson has a neat doubling as both sons, the corporate Peter and the depressed and broken Simon. His monologue in the second half is a highlight. Simon’s soap star girlfriend Claire played by Freema Agyeman gives the evening a feisty kick and ensures that the sparks fly. Desmond Barrit as Kristin’s gay best friend provides strong support and much needed comic relief

This is an entertaining evening that anyone who has had to endure those awkward family gatherings can relate to. Painful, funny, tender and heart-breaking; it’s the best and the worst of all our families.

Rating 4/5

Apologia runs at the Trafalgar Studios until 18 November. For tickets click here.

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