Tag Archives: Alexi Kaye Campbell

“Apologia” at the Trafalgar Studios

Here’s an example of a good play made great by a lead performance. Alexi Kaye Campbell’s 1992 piece, about an older woman who is said to have chosen a career in academia over her family, is proficient: the dialogue is strong and debating points clear. But this traditional piece, with its dinner party scenario, influenced by Chekhov and Ibsen, really scores high because the legendary Stockard Channing takes the role of its heroine, Kristin Miller.

As Kristin’s family assemble for a birthday dinner – one it is all too obvious will be a disaster – a history of emotional hunger is combined with delicious humour. The lines are good… but Channing makes them land with magnificently understated sarcasm. She gets laughs from monosyllabic answers and even raised eyebrows. Director Jamie Lloyd injects his usual energy into proceedings and it’s all highly enjoyable.

It’s a shame nobody can compete with Kristin. Her elder son, played by Joseph Millson, seems resigned and then simply angry. One daughter-in-law, an actress who won’t admit she stars in a soap opera, comes across as simply tiresome and it’s an unforgiving role for Freema Agyeman. More interesting is the character of future in-law Trudi, played by Laura Carmichael, who is challenged with meeting Kristin for the first time. Trudi is perky, apolitical and a Christian – it’s like shooting ducks in a barrel. If this play is a battle of the generations – and younger characters frequently question the idealism of their elders’ activism – the odds seem pretty stacked to me.

Channing gets even more impressive in the play’s second, much darker, act. A second son, again played by Millson, suffers from depression and makes for a heartfelt scene. But the accusations against Kristin are too long and too feeble. A well-written cruel streak adds dramatic tension but is in questionable taste. A fairer perspective comes from Trudi, a character cleverly developed, and the defence of a “witness” in the form of her old friend (a strong performance from Des Barrit). And so Kaye Campbell provides resolution. If you suspect it’s a little too pat, it’s delivered with such skill that all is forgiven.

Until 18 November 2017

www.atgtickets.com

Photo by Marc Brenner

“The Pride” at the Trafalgar Studios

Nearly six years after its premiere at the Royal Court’s upstairs theatre, Jamie Lloyd once more directs Alexi Kaye Campbell’s play, The Pride, this time at the Trafalgar Studios. A story of gay life, set in 1958 and 50 years later, it deserves to be seen again, and by more than those who could squeeze into the Royal Court’s smaller space. Examining changing attitudes and personal politics, the play insures a broad appeal – just – by virtue of its heartfelt emotions.

The Pride is occasionally verbose. Kaye Campbell doesn’t wear his learning lightly, but there is no doubt the writing is accomplished. Lloyd’s direction is the key to its success: he brings out the drama and speed in a script that could lag and his bold staging, with a mirror used to create a spooky confluence between the ages, injects theatricality.

L-R Mathew Horne & Al Weaver - The Pride - Trafalgar Studios - Photo Marc Brenner
Mathew Horne and Al Weaver

A time-travelling structure, flying between the 1950s and the present with exciting speed, allows the actors to shine. Harry Hadden-Jones and Al Weaver play the lovers Philip and Oliver, wracked with guilt and fear in the Fifties and just as confused with their contemporary freedoms. Three cameo roles performed commendably by Matthew Horne provide the majority of the play’s humour. But the star is Hayley Atwell as Sylvia, Philip’s wife in the past and Oliver’s friend in the present – the most interesting roles in the play performed with great skill.

The historical scenes pack the most punch, as there seems to be so much more at stake. The contemporary version of Oliver’s character, battling with fidelity and a sex addiction, seems trivial in comparison. But Kaye Campbell has a powerful idea – highlighting hard-won freedoms as a call to action among the gay community for continued political involvement. At a time when legislation in Russia focuses attention on gay rights globally, the play seems topical and important: the cast’s appearance at the curtain call with protest placards, dedicating their performance ‘To Russia with love’, deserves applause.

Until 9 November 2013

Photos by Marc Brenner

Written 21 August 2013 for The London Magazine