Far be it from me to identify with the bitter old bitch who sits at the end of the table passing comment on everyone and everything in her path, but there’s more than a touch of Bette Davis in The Anniversary in this Jamie Lloyd-directed version of Alexei Kaye Campbell’s acidulated family drama Apologia, now lightly Americanised to suit the talents of Stockard Channing.

Despite limited facial motility, she has proper stage presence, and some deft timing. The phone call gag is the second rudest in modern theatre after the c**t joke in Clybourne Park, and she nails it perfectly.  She’s good too at the long homilies her character Kristin delivers on the differences between thinking for yourself and unquestioningly absorbing either religion, or pop culture as touted by her sons’ partners.

As the younger women, Laura Carmichael has a titanium core underneath the bright portrayal and so fares better as the sunnily positive born-again Christian, over Freema Agyeman‘s fashion-obsessed soap actress.  Agyeman switches well between airhead and angry, but the resourceful Nina Sosanya played this at the Bush theatre in 2009 with more subtlety and depth.

Joseph Millson doubles both the sons, a banker and an artist, differently embittered. One of them seems as though he’s doing Ayckbourn, the other as though it’s Ibsen, and it kind of works.  The first act is played for laughs, some of them too stereotypically written and obviously acted in Desmond Barritt’s camp gay-best-friend who appears to be impersonating Jon Culshaw’s Dead Ringers impression of Tom Baker from Dr Who.

But in the second half, when the boys release their pain of abandonment by Channing’s hippy-revolutionary mother focused on her art-historian life in Tuscany, and in one beautifully drawn and carefully acted scene with Channing and Millsom relating the night his character spent alone on a station platform in Italy, it’s closer to Chekov.


until November 18