Sorry, not sorry – it’s complicated

Gabrielle Scawthorn in The Apologists. Photo: Unlikely Productions/supplied.

Rita Bratovich talks to the remarkable Gabrielle Scawthorn about her new one-actor/multi-character play that looks at the intricacies of the humble and not so humble apology. 

“My husband slash producer, and I were going on a walk one day and we had this idea for a show and we fleshed it out on about a 40 minute walk,” says Gabrielle Scawthorn, describing the germination of the concept behind her new play, The Apologists. The solo play comprises three separate, self-contained scenarios, each with a central character dealing with a transgression and its incumbent apology.

“Public apology was just happening every time we turned on the television,” explains Scawthorn. She and her husband, Hugo Chiarella co-founded Unlikely Productions, and Chiarella is producing The Apologists. The inspirational walk discussed earlier took place in London, which is where the couple were living at the time and where the play first came together. Also at the time, the #MeToo movement had permeated social consciousness and cancel culture was becoming the retribution of choice. There was a lot to talk about and a lot to distil into a palatable piece of work. 

“The kind of central theme is ‘What is an actual apology? Who is it for: is it for the giver or for the receiver? Is it an atonement or an acknowledgement?’ It’s looking at every angle of the apology,” explains Scawthorn. 

Ultimately, she and Chiarella decided it would be interesting to have three separate writers put something together. 

“We just put essentially a tender out to writing agents saying we’re looking for three utterly brilliant, young diverse playwrights to help tell this story,” says Scawthorn. 

Gabrielle Scawthorn in character in The Apologists. Photo: Unlikely Productions/supplied.

The number and calibre of writers who responded was incredible and they were able to select three with impressive credentials and very distinctive voices: Lucinda Burnett, Cordelia O’Neill and Iskandar Sharazuddin.

Each created a completely separate monologue and storyline, but they worked closely with Chiarella and dramaturg Jane Moriarty to ensure there was a thematic flow throughout the entire work. 

The final piece shines a light into the prism of  ‘apology’ through three different scenarios: 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.

“It’s so interesting how we as a public have this lens of what we want from an apology. Some people really want to see someone suffering … some people want a person not to give in … other people really need accountability … and then sometimes, it’s sincerity,” says Scawthorn. “If the quest is to find the perfect apology, I don’t think that exists because that is an impossible task.”

Scawthorn has the arduous task of embodying not only the three main characters but also around 32 very diverse secondary characters, working with minimal production elements and props. 

“The story is the most important element, so [the production is] quite bare. We’ve got a great sound and lighting … because you need those supporting elements, but in terms of design elements, it’s kept quite stark so that you can be very focused. You don’t want to confuse things, you want to keep them quite pared back and simple, so that the audience can really connect with me.”

She advises going for dinner or drinks afterwards with friends because the issues raised are bound to stimulate conversation. 

Performances in England received glowing reviews. Scawthorn is hoping to repeat that when she takes the stage at Old 505 in January.  It will be her first show since Covid-19. If nothing else, she is heartened by the generosity and camaraderie within the industry, having been given rehearsal space by Sport For Jove and given space at Old 505. 

 “There is a real sense of community in the independent theatre scene right now that is just ‘how can we help?’”

The wider community can help by attending independent theatre productions like this. 

The Apologists plays the Old 505 Theatre, 5 Eliza Street, Newtown from Wednesday, 20 January to Sunday, 31 January. Various session times. Tickets ($30 concession with discount code CONCESSION, including first drink; $40 general including first drink) and further info available from

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