It is very easy to stroll past the Calder Bookshop and not realise there is a theatre tucked away in the back. I speak with some authority, I’ve done so many many times. But if you can tear yourself away from the shelves crammed with books you will find, tucked away a small but perfectly formed theatre space. With just 32 seats, it offers good views of the stage all round.
On this occasion the stage is set as a residence with a desk, a couple of chairs, wine and a bookshelf. The books are an interesting collection; I couldn’t read all of the titles but the Margaret Thatcher biography gives a clue to one of the characters’ politics. Enter Hugh (Gary Heron) – a smug, self-satisfied theatre critic and wine snob, who is about to enter the political arena. We learn a little bit about him through his side of some telephone conversations and his general musings. The second person to enter the stage is Alex (Gemma Pantaleo), not the visitor Hugh was expecting. Instead it’s someone who seems intent on exacting revenge for something Hugh has done in the past even though he has no clue about it, even though it’s pretty obvious to everyone else.
Heron does an excellent job of portraying the pompous Hugh, completely lacking in self-awareness. He does it a bit too well actually. I did not buy in to the changes in Hugh’s character where he seemingly becomes contrite and more empathetic. Perhaps we are not supposed to, but if that is the case some kind of final statement showing that he is exactly the same person is needed. I also enjoyed watching Pantaleo as the rather frenetic Alex, especially after she had relaxed into the performance, although even then there seemed to be some slips where she didn’t quite use the correct word, leaving me with a sort of fleeting, mental double-take.
Described as a black comedy it is humorous throughout, resulting in some chuckles and giggles. At other times the dialogue deserves a reaction from the audience but didn’t get one for some reason. Timing issues possibly? Speaking of timing, delivery was generally a bit too rushed and many noticable pauses which were just that little bit too long; as if the cast were waiting for a prompt rather than for dramatic or comic effect. The whole thing is also a bit too long really and could do with some culling of unnecessary parts, maybe keeping it to just one act and doing away with the intrusive interval. For example, who on earth is the random person driving a car around in Scotland, and why did we need to hear about it so often? There’s a lot of action for such a tiny stage, but well-orchestrated to avoid any clashes or mishaps with props. Costumes also deserve a mention, particularly Hugh’s kimono – perfect choice.
Despite the length and disappointingly twee ending The Critic is still an enjoyable and amusing couple of hours in this delightful and well hidden little theatre.
Written by: John Hill
Directed by: Sally Ripley
Design and Costume: Jay Hobson
The Critic plays at Calder Bookshop and Theatre until 10 December. Further information and bookings can be found here.