A family reunion is the scene for a reckoning between a ‘neglectful’ parent and her angry, grown-up children
There is a marvellously moving scene in Alexi Kaye Campbell’s wonderful Apologia in which a monstrous and, until now, defiantly non-maternal mother removes shards of glass from her son’s hand as he talks of her abandonment of him as a little boy. It’s a shameless steal from Chekhov’s The Seagull, which serves to heighten a moment of moving intensity between a guilt-stricken but still angry parent and her wounded, grown-up child. Georgina-Brown-colour-176

It is all the more potent for being the quiet chaser to a rather conventional, if hyper-articulate and hellish, family reunion in which Kristin (Stockard Channing) proves herself to be the ‘hostess with the mostest’ when it comes to withering put-downs – and a terrible cook. Indeed, the chicken is judged so dangerous – the oven refused to heat up – that they had to call in a Chinese, which wasn’t particularly appetising even before Des Barrit’s hilariously camp Hugh finds a floating toenail.

For ladies of my age, Stockard Channing will be forever Rizzo, the apple-cheeked super-flirt from Grease who defiantly sings: ‘There are worse things that I can do (than go with a boy or two).’ That fabulous face has been nipped and tucked too drastically, but Rizzo’s rebelliousness remains unchecked in the character of Kristin, a waspish American 60-something art historian who started revolting in the 1960s and has never stopped.

Kristin can’t forgive her son Peter (Joseph Millson) for his capitalist values and working as an international banker (‘the takers not the givers’) nor can she disguise her distaste when his sweetly well-meaning fiancée, Trudi (Downton’s excellent Laura Carmichael), presents her with a Liberian tribal mask as a birthday gift. ‘It’s main purpose was clearly not decorative,’ she says. Her horrified jaw drops when Trudi refers to her son as ‘Peter Poo’ and reveals that they met at a prayer meeting. She turns on Claire, the actress girlfriend (Freema Agyeman) of her ‘troubled’ son, Simon (a failed writer), with even greater venom, calling her a ‘moneygrubbing whore’ for signing up to a telly soap.

Her sons retaliate, quite understandably. They tell her what an awful mother she has been, accuse her of neglect when she lost custody of them following her divorce and admit the hurt they feel at not having been mentioned in her recently published memoir. Kaye Campbell’s writing snaps and crackles, building into a profound examination of the timeless conflict some mothers experience, torn between their duty to their children and themselves. And, at 73, Channing is on top form, offensively feisty, pitifully fragile.

Until 18 November at Trafalgar Studios, London WC2. 0844-8717632, www.trafalgarentertainment.com