A unique and quirky venue, The Calder Bookshop is a tiny 32-seater theatre that’s currently housing John Hill’s play The Critic

The Critic is centred around theatre critic and parliamentary candidate Hugh (Gary Heron). It’s evident from the books on his shelf and “sublime” wine habit that he’s standing as an MP for the Conservative.

In our introduction to the character, Hugh is bumbling around his flat placing freshly received letters in a box labelled ‘death threats.’ Our introduction to the character is a brief one, as in the next moment, Alex (Gemma Pantaleo) enters the stage with a gun, and the tone of the play suddenly changes with an immediate increase in intensity.

Unfortunately, neither of the two characters feel fully dimensional; I think it is because we barely know Hugh before he is taken hostage, meaning our empathy towards him is limited as we aren’t yet connected to the character. We also don’t find out much about him until much later in the play. It’s difficult to understand the rationale for Alex’s actions as this is not immediately revealed, meaning our connection to this character is also difficult to form as it isn’t clear who she really is until near to the play’s conclusion. 

Heron’s performance is great, and his pain and terror are believable. He brings a physicality to his performance that shows the terror Hugh is feeling from shaking to heavy breathing. It is quite a performance to behold. On the other hand, Pantaleo’s performance isn’t quite on the same level. At times it felt as though she was simply delivering the lines rather than fuelling them with the necessary emotions. There are many hints towards Alex having mental health issues; however, this isn’t clear to see in the performance and could have been heightened. 

Hill’s script is filled with witty lines, which receive sniggers here and there, but the comedic aspects of the play need to be amped up. I feel that if you’re calling a play a black comedy, it should be hilarious, and this unfortunately wasn’t that. 

I also feel that the play was a bit too long. There was an interval, and I feel that this was detrimental to the pacing of the play. As by the time Act Two began, the intensity Act One had carefully built was diluted. Act Two felt unnecessarily drawn out and as though there was a lengthy wait for us to find out any answers to the questions had been asked in Act One. I believe the play could easily be condensed into a 1 hour 30 minutes run time, and the removal of an interval would be beneficial to the pacing and intensity of the show.

Also, I understand that the show is calling itself a black comedy, but there should absolutely still be trigger warnings displayed. If you are to have an actor put a gun to his head in an act of attempting suicide, you need to warn your audience of this to be completely transparent, as this could be a very distressing thing for someone to watch. 

To conclude, the show has a great premise – but it comes off as more thriller-esque than black comedy. Some creative changes are necessary for the play to build tension adequately as a thriller should. Or, if they wish to go down the comedy route, some work on comedic timing and the comical content of the script is required. However, this play contains a great performance from Heron who was intensely believable in his performance in the scenes where he was frightened for his life. So, this critic believes that The Critic does have potential but could use some fine tuning (but please don’t send Alex around). I’m hoping this review comes off in the constructive way it’s intended; I never wish to write a scathing review and always hope to make constructive suggestions written in a positive manner.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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