Review: The Critic, Calder Bookshop & Theatre

A play about a theatre critic? What could go wrong… The Critic plays at Calder Bookshop & Theatre

“Anyone can destroy a bad play.  It takes talent and reputation to destroy a good one”

You’d be forgiven for not knowing that The Cut houses three theatres, as nestling between the Vics Young and Old is Calder Bookshop & Theatre, a joyfully intimate space. Its theatrical output has been a bit limited in recent times (I made it pre-pandemic to see Irish Coffee there) but it is now playing host to John Hill’s new play The Critic. And what more could one ask for than to be a theatre critic seeing a play about a theatre critic, well I would start with delivering on the promise of a black comedy for starters…

The play takes place in the well-appointed home of Hugh, a renowned theatre critic (imagine such a thing!) and wine snob. High on pretentiousness and a rudimentary understanding of social media, he is naturally hoping to become a Conservative MP but an unexpected visitor one night looks set to put a spanner in the works. For it isn’t the sexy masseuse he’s expecting, it’s a woman called Alex brandishing a gun and she’s determined to exact her revenge for crimes about which we’ll soon to find out.

As a concept it works and as a set-up the potential feels there, especially once Alex unrolls plastic sheeting and starts brandishing a hammer. But in reality, Hill’s script is a good couple of drafts away from an ideal form. Outlandish plotting detracts from would-be serious if clichéd messaging, a lack of internal focus folds in far too many distracting add-ons which have the additional impact of prolonging the play way past its bedtime, and the humour just isn’t there on the page.

One wishes Sally Ripley’s direction could have addressed some of these issues but as she oversees painfully long scene changes and introduces a brief interval of all things to seriously disrupt any mood that might have built up, it’s not to be. The production’s saving grace comes in the form of Gary Heron’s performance as Hugh which plays on the character’s pomposity and does raise chuckles it has to be said as he props up the back-and-forth with Gemma Pantaleo’s Alex. 

Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Photo: Robert Piwko
The Critic is booking at Calder Bookshop & Theatre until 10th December

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