The Apologists, Vault Festival

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by Christina Bulford

When was the last time you apologised? Accidentally brushing someone awkwardly on the tube? Getting held up at work perhaps, and leaving a friend waiting?

But have you ever had to apologise for something big?  To make an apology your future depends on?

The Apologists is an absorbing and intelligent one-woman show presenting a series of three monologues by three different writers, each featuring an apology made under the pressure of public scrutiny.

The first monologue sees Iskandar Sharazuddin consider what it is to face up to the act of making a formal public apology, in the face of a tidal wave of suppressed emotion. Can sincerity ever show through the formality of a speech delivered by a senior public figure? Is it any wonder we find emotionless apologies difficult to accept? Or worse still – crocodile tears. Performer Gabrielle Scawthorn digs her nails into the press podium for support as she teeters on the edge of a full-blown howl of emotion.

In Cordelia O Neill’s monologue, the apology can only come when her social influencer character can face up to what she’s really sorry for. When a B&B review turns nasty, the hurt she’s caused exposes the cracks in her seemingly perfect life. When she’s ready to make it, will her apology even be heard? Scawthorn captures the distinction between her character’s ‘perfect’ online and vacuous offline life with an almost disconcertingly well-observed performance.

Perhaps an apology isn’t ever enough, after all, Lucinda Burnett considers in the harrowing concluding part. Here we encounter a charity boss behaving badly, in an episode that must be heavily influenced by the Oxfam rape scandal of last year. He owes his chief of safeguarding a bigger apology than even he realises, and quietly devastated, she waits. This is the true heart-wrencher of the evening, and Scawthorn doesn’t hold back in her performance. The pain in her eyes bores straight through you.

Unlikely Productions have compiled and produced an hour of exceptionally high quality drama that asks some big questions of its audience. In each scenario, we are left tantalised and questioning. How each character’s apology is met is left ultimately down to our imaginations; would we accept, and why? Who is an apology really for, and where fault has been made or blame laid, can it really make it better?

You can physically feel the release of tension in the room between acts as Scawthorn changes her shoes in silence, a key indicator that this is disquieting, edge-of-your-seat stuff. See it – but be prepared for the unanswerable questions we are left to ponder to linger in long afterwards.

The Apologists runs through 24 February.

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