Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

The Critic

Robert Shore
Pentameters Theatre
(2006)

Production photo

Gosh, a play by a critic called The Critic about a critic, criticised by another critic with the original critic in the audience. The possibilities are endless and Robert Shore, far better known as a man who rips apart plays for Metro and Time Out, explores some of them in territory already utilised to great effect by Tom Stoppard in The Real Inspector Hound, April de Angelis in A Laughing Matter and most recently Improbable in Theatre of Blood.

The first question that arises when our poncy, Oxbridge-educated aesthete with a goatee is sighted, initially in a smart suit with red bow tie and then at home in a red silk kimono is who is Shore's model?

Since virtually no critic (except yours truly) is ever seen in a suit, the verisimilitude is questionable. Three possibilities come to mind, ignoring the playwright himself and this could be autobiographical though one hopes for his sake that it isn't, but none really fits the bill and that is how it should be.

The funniest part of this hour-long comedy is when Joseph Starling, a misspelt little tyrant if ever there was one, reads out his vindictive little damnation of a play called The Critic at Pentameters Theatre in Hampstead.

This manages to lambast everyone involved in the production with suitable bile and, at that point, one cannot help but think that Mr Shore is making himself a hostage to fortune.

As Starling finishes dictating his piece to the copy taker, his home is invaded by a pair of gasmen, one of them female, who have come to repair a smell-less leak.

No sooner have they burst through his door than they reveal themselves to be none other than the actor/playwright and leading actress from the dreadful play with the terrible review.

While Harry Meacher hams it up as the critic, Dan Wilder and Mariele Runacre-Temple demonstrate bad acting for all they are worth as they kidnap him and demand a retraction. Starling should probably consider himself lucky to escape with a gagging order since in most other critics-centred plays, protagonists have a habit of dying horribly.

Just when the play begins to run out of steam, we are introduced to a Pirandello moment. Having sunk a whole bottle of white wine and after an invitation from the far side of the 4th wall, the attractive young lady next to your own version of the critic stormed the stage to tell everyone to stop being foolish. She then rescued the critic (and the play) and allowed us all to enjoy a proper sense of closure.

As Robert Shore would undoubtedly wish any critic to say, he has found his vocation and while he makes some interesting observations about the epiparasitical relationship between critics and those whom they criticise, he might well, like Joseph Starling, have discovered his vocation when he became the critic rather than the criticised.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher