Theatre: Actors make the most of unhappy families

Theatre: Actors make the most of unhappy families

American actor Stockard Channing makes a welcome return to London in Alexi Kaye Campbell’s Apologia at Trafalgar Studios, playing a Marxist art historian and absent mother who was active politically in the 1960s. Her two sons arrive to celebrate her birthday and the publication of her memoir, in which they are not even mentioned. Channing has always been dextrous with waspish dialogue and here she is provided with a cornucopia of rude put-downs. Joseph Millson is very good, too – so good that I did not even realise that he had played both sons until the curtain calls.

Lucy Kirkwood’s somewhat overwhelming Mosquitoes at National Theatre offers a series of domestic collisions between two sisters which are interrupted by the occasional lecture on the universe and the various ways our world could end. The casting of Olivia Colman and Olivia Williams means that the theatre is playing to full houses, and it is their acting and Joseph Quinn’s acting as a disturbed lad which gives the play its dramatic, emotional and intellectual energy. Rufus Norris’s in-the-round production has a striking and effective planetarium feel and the colours are ravishing.

Jim Cartwright’s award-winning Road was given a memorable promenade production when it premiered at the Royal Court in 1986. Set in Thatcher’s Britain, three million are out of work. Life is at a standstill. There is nothing to do except booze and have sex. Cartwright does for the working class in the north of England in the 1980s what Henry Mayhew did for the working classes in London in the 1840s. He gives the poor a voice. The script is a series of bleak monologues and duets, ribald, brutal and sometimes lyrical. June Watson, who is comic and sad at the same time, has one of the best solos, playing an old lady suffering from dementia. Mark Hadfield is well cast as an old man who remembers the good times in the 1950s when there was lots of work and holidays. Michelle Fairley is hilarious when she tries to seduce a drunken soldier.

I think it was Winston Churchill who said the best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter. You have seen what happened when people were asked to vote in Britain and America recently. Audiences attending Rob Drummond’s Majority at National Theatre are provided with electronic voting pads. The system quickly established that 90 per cent of the audience were liberal, 93 per cent white, 40 per cent male, 65 per cent social media users. No surprises there, then.

Drummond’s one-man show, hardly a play, is a 90-minute affable chat in which he confronts a number of moral conundrums, including the familiar runaway train scenario, in which we are given a choice in certain life-threatening circumstances as to whom we would save and whom we would kill. The performance would have more punch if it ended with the audience having a proper verbal debate.

There are two shows for young children at the Garrick Theatre. Horrible Histories in the morning is deliberately childish and silly; at the same time it is historically informative. Gangsta Granny in the afternoon may satisfy children who have read David Walliams’s 2011 fictional story and want to see it performed live, but I was surprised how unfunny it was.