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Unlikely Productions presents The Apologists at Omnibus Theatre | Review

The Apologists at The Omnibus TheatreAn apology is a curious thing in British life – sometimes people find themselves saying ‘sorry’ for all sorts of reasons, not necessarily anything to do with having done anything wrong, such as “I’m sorry, could I have the bill please?” at a busy restaurant, or not quite hearing what someone has just said on account of a lot of other conversations happening in the said restaurant, or, as a list on the BuzzFeed website puts it, “Thinking you heard what someone said but being so scared of being wrong about what they said that you ask them to repeat it, just in case.

But then there’s the kind of public apology that occurs in Excuses, the first of three plays, all short monologues, that comprise The Apologists. Louise (Gabrielle Scawthorn), the newly appointed ‘chief executive of the NHS’ has made a blunder. The play appears to have made a blunder, too, inasmuch as the NHS doesn’t have one chief executive – there’s one for NHS England, NHS Wales and NHS Scotland respectively plus a chief executive of the Health and Social Care Board in Northern Ireland.

Anyway, the exact circumstances of what happened are debatable, and as is the case with one-performer shows, only one perspective is set out, so the audience doesn’t have any other version of events to draw on in order to make their own minds up as to who, if anyone, is guilty of a misdemeanour, or even something worse.

In both this and the play immediately following, Seven, The Sweetest Hour, references are made to the power of social media and, by the nature of its open platforms, the potential for copious amounts of negativity. This proves harrowing for the narrators in both plays, but the impact is arguably worse for Holly, the online journalist in the second one, whose apparent 1.3 million followers might well be wondering why there is a sudden silence from her after a sustained period of near-daily updates.

Some thought is also given, however, to the power of words and images that emanate from writers like Holly. In her case, she wrote a negative review of a bed and breakfast. A critical incident occurred shortly thereafter (the details of which would be giving too much away), and she has reason to believe that her review had something to do with it. A subplot about a married man called Brian with whom she has had relations with didn’t, for me, add much to the overall narrative, except to highlight that Holly has a personal life beyond what she does for a living.

The third play, New Universe, looks at the charity sector, where not everyone has the same laudable and compassionate aims as Sienna, the Head of Safeguarding at a large charity that has extensive operations overseas. Subjected to a crime against the person some years ago, long before she was promoted to her current role, the charity is rocked by further sexual assaults on other workers, for which – in a déjà vu scene – the chief executive officer issues a public apology.

But it is rendered meaningless by a throwaway remark made after he has left the press briefing whilst his microphone was still attached and still turned on. With the chief executive wanting to keep as much as possible under wraps to protect the charity, whose work would suffer immensely if full disclosure of events was given, Sienna must either go along with this action plan, or take a stand and speak out anyway.

There’s a lot of exposition in this harrowing piece of theatre (which is fair enough – I would rather the events here were talked about rather than re-enacted) and there are generous helpings of food for thought in this engrossing production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

A Secretary of State for Health and Social Care makes a racist comment to her attending doctor when her child is rushed into hospital; a prominent travel writer is held responsible for a suicide after a scathing review; an employee of an aid organisation demands the recompense she truly needs from the CEO after a disingenuous public apology.

The Apologists presents three topical stories which combined provide a powerful examination of the meaning of the act of apology, the complex power play at work between the giver and the receiver of an apology, and whether we are responsible for the context of our actions. Each solo story focuses on a female character, a high-profile woman, and the issues raised also shine a light on gender inequality and social justice.

3 – 8 March 2020 at Omnibus Theatre

Three stories exploring the act of public apology in the face of scandal. By Iskandar Sharazuddin, Cordelia O’Neill and Lucinda Burnett.

Creative team
Writers and their stories
Iskandar Sharazuddin ACT 1 – Excuses
Cordelia O’Neill ACT 2 – Seven, The Sweetest Hour
Lucinda Burnett ACT 3 – New Universe

Cast Gabrielle Scawthorn
Director Jane Moriarty
Lighting Designer Saul Valiunas
Composer Robert Tripolino
Omnibus Theatre, London
3rd – 8th March 2020, 7.30pm


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