It seems not a day goes by now without someone apologising for something they have said, most usually on social media. And let’s be honest, if we all searched through our own history there is likely to be at least one case of something that you could probably be called upon to apologise for, whatever the original intention or meaning of what you said.
The Apologists therefore seems the most obvious of shows, taking as its core how and why we apologise. Comprising three unique acts from three different writers, it is all tied together by its common theme and by a trio of touching performances from Gabrielle Scawthorn. What’s most impressive about the whole production is how all three acts manage to approach the same subject from very different angles.
Act I, Iskander Sharazuddin’s Excuses is the most direct. It features an NHS Trust CEO facing the press after being called out on Twitter for a racist comment to a consultant. From behind the podium she delivers a speech that is full of the usual excuses, but it’s only when she steps aside and delivers from the heart that the truth comes out. It’s direct and powerful as she questions whether one slip can tarnish every good achievement she may have made, and an interesting response to the almost daily Twitter pile-ons we now see.
After a swift onstage costume change Act II gives us Cordelia O’Neill’s Seven, The Sweetest Hour. Where Excuses was direct, this is anything but, hardly touching the issue of apology until close to the conclusion. Instead we witness a social media influencer coming face to face with the reality of what words can do, even if written from behind the safety of a computer screen. For me as a reviewer it’s also the closest to home of the three pieces. The balance between critique and abuse is a fine line at times and one we have to tread so carefully.
Finally Act III delivers Lucida Burnett’s New Universe. It’s good to see a piece move away from social media. Instead the premise is very much based on real events; the abuse of power uncovered within aid agencies where those entrusted to look after the vulnerable were instead eliciting sexual favours in return for aid. New Universe is easily the most emotionally powerful of the three stories, as well as the most complex in how it examines when an apology really means anything. But somehow it is also the least accessible, maybe due to the complexities of the subject matter. It is, however, the one that perhaps would work best as a standalone piece if given more than its twenty minutes to delve into the subject.
The Apologists is without doubt an interesting hour of theatre. It’s superbly brought to life by Scawthorn’s acting and the subtle direction from Jane Moriarty. Saul Valiunas’ lighting helps in differentiating the three pieces, the flashing lights perfectly representing the press conference, whilst the softer hues for the second act allowing for a great contrast in styles. Its real issue though is that, even with such strong subject matters, come the conclusion it was hard to really feel anything new had been said.
Written by: Iskandar Sharazuddin, Cordelia O’Neill and Lucinda Burnett
Directed by: Jane Moriarty
Produced by: Unlikely Productions
Booking link: https://www.omnibus-clapham.org/the-apologists/
Booking until: 8 March 2020