Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Apologia, MTC ****

 Apologia, Melbourne Theatre Company
  • Kate Herbert
  • From: Herald Sun
  • March 01, 2011 12:00AM

Robyn Nevin is compelling and perfectly cast as the cool, dry-humoured, eminent Art historian, Kristen Miller, in Alexi Kaye Campbell’s family drama, Apologia. Kristen’s son describes her as, “opinionated, didactic, dictatorial”, and Nevin captures all of these – and more.

Beneath Kristen’s very English self-control and leftwing, academic snobbery, Nevin reveals her to be an ambitious woman who remains in secret turmoil about her choice to put her professional life before her children. Kristen’s family avoids the big, emotional issues until the night of her birthday. Now, all the murky, long-buried secrets explode to the surface when her sons challenge her about her apparent abandonment of them decades earlier.

Campbell avoids the play turning into soap opera by inserting an examination of Kristen’s political activism and the repercussions of feminism on women activists. He also includes Kristen’s enlightening analysis of Giotto, the Early Renaissance painter, of Ibsen’s radical play, The Doll’s House, and her view of artists as potential instigators of social change.

Kristen is a complex character: a humanist, academic, socialist. She is the core of the play around whom other characters orbit, accommodating her obsessions but, finally, challenging her worldview and choices so that  Kristen is compelled to present her “apologia”, her formal defence of her opinions and conduct.

She finds support in Hugh, her witty, camp, old comrade (Ron Falk). She abhors Peter (Ian Bliss), her banker son’s financial manipulation of underdeveloped African nations. 

She is shocked by Peter’s relentlessly cheerful fiancée, Trudi’s (Laura Gordon) blindingly simplistic, Christian ramblings and appalled by Claire (Helen Christinson) wasting her acting talent in a television soap opera. 

But worst for Kristen is her second son Simon’s (Patrick Brammall) total mental meltdown.

The performances are consistently strong, Jennifer Flowers’ direction cleverly unobtrusive and Campbell’s dramatic structure and dialogue cunningly wrought. But it is Nevin that is the still, dark pool at the heart of this storm.
Stars: * * * *
APOLOGIA, Melbourne Theatre Company, Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre, Until April 9

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