The Apologists – Theatre Review

I MAKE no apology for saying this, but I will be surprised if I see a better stage performance this year (off West End) than that given by Gabrielle Scawthorn in The Apologists. A tour de force.

Sixty odd minutes of brilliance as she seamlessly flicks from one character to another. Three plays within a play, all written by different (talented) writers, all engaging and relevant, and expertly delivered by an actress in the primest of prime form. No one but her on stage and a pair of red boots itching to be worn. Worth negotiating Clapham Common tube station in the rush hour to watch.

Showing upstairs at the Omnibus Theatre, The Apologists knits together three stories of our time – racism, social media and sexual abuse (how relevant given the cover up of sexual harassment and bullying of female staff at Save The Children UK). The thread is the ‘apology’ or lack of. As Elton John beautifully sang to us some 44 years ago: ‘Sorry seems to be the hardest word.’

First (Excuses by Iskandar Sharazuddin), we see Scawthorn as Louise – the chief executive of the National Health Service, appearing at a press conference against a backdrop of flashing lights. She’s there to defend offensive, hurtful and racist comments that she made to a female doctor. Comments that were made in the heat of the moment after her daughter was taken to hospital following a fall from a tree. Although she says she should have been more tactful in her dealings with the doctor, she’s abrasive, preferring instead to rail against others (social media, and even her ‘boring’ husband). ‘One blip doesn’t define a career,’ she pleads. But will she do the decent things and apologise?

Seven, The Sweetest Hour (written by Cordelia O’Neill) sees Scawthorn don the red boots – ‘fuck me boots’ – as she (Holly) goes to review the bed and breakfast business of Dora. Holly’s big on social media, quite formidable, and in her spare time is having an affair with her ex-boss who is married (a sign of deep inner unhappiness). But that arrangement seems to have been somewhat derailed by news that Brian’s wife is pregnant. It doesn’t stop him ringing her relentlessly – or asking her for phone sex. All rather sad – she’s never seen him come to climax (think positions) while he’s yet to take her over the edge (bloody selfish individual).

After experiencing dinner at seven o’clock – the sweetest hour, when day meets night – Holly posts a review on Dora’s bed and breakfast. It’s less than flattering, causing a tragic outcome. Will the brazen Holly apologise? Or does she even know how to apologise?

Finally, Scawthorn becomes Sienna, head of safeguarding for an international charity (New Universe, by Lucinda Burnett). Her boss Alex has just had to explain why rapes were committed by staff on beneficiaries of the charity’s aid – crimes done under his watch. But he’s half-hearted in his apology and Sienna is singularly unimpressed.

But this is just the tip of a deep and nasty iceberg as Sienna was raped six years previously while out in the field in war torn West Africa – by a member of the charity’s security team. An incident that Sienna thought Alex had known about – but was scandalously covered up.

‘I will be heard,’ she says at the end. The uncovering of a cover up.

The Apologists is a super cocktail of a play – up there with the best of Cosmopolitans. Instead of vodka, cranberry juice, lime juice and Triple Sec as ingredients, we are treated to great writing and a triple helping of Scawthorn. Add in adept direction by Jane Moriarty and you have a play that grips from start to finish.

Apologise, apologise, apologise.

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Title image by Steve Gregson

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