Studio Theatre and Café
February 12 – March 26
Alan Fisher (Dallas Fogarty) has always wanted to be a playwright. So when, despite receiving somewhat of a standing ovation on opening night, his latest, comeback work is savaged by Karl ‘The Axe’ Anderton (Gary Kliger), the most destructive critic in theatre, he does not take it well. Now that it has been labelled the worst Australian play in recent memory, no theatre in the country will touch it, and he holds Anderton responsible. However, revenge is a game for two and as the action unfolds from confrontation to confinement and retribution, audience members will find their sympathies shifting between the revered critic and the wronged writer.
“The Critic” by Alex Broun is a provocative play full of interesting ideas as it explores complex concepts such as the subjectivity of art and objectivity of criticism, leaving audiences left to consider questions such as ‘why have critics?’ ‘what makes a critic qualified?’ and ‘does it matter what critics write?’ It is a script of the highest quality, evidenced, for example, in its easy inclusion of an impressive array of literary references. The work is, however, quite wordy, making it at times cumbersome for the performers to carry its verbosity with equal flair, leading to some stumbles.
Befitting such a dialogue-dominant play, there is little room for movement within the crowded one-star hotel staging (the location to which Anderton has been lured to an in-wait Fisher), which is perhaps a good thing given the lack of sincerity to some of its physical fight scenes. Yet, the work maintains interest, with a few twists and an unanticipated revelation in Act Two. Kliger is a convincing critic, displaying a natural cadence to his dialogue delivery in contrast to the Fogarty’s overplayed and initially jarring performance as playwright Fisher, full of misplaced exaggeration and excessive emphasis.
Although not a big or flashy production, “The Critic” is a first-rate work of Australian theatre to engage audiences on a cerebral level through its verbal exchanges exploring questions about the role of the critic and worth of a world without reviews. It is an intense work, full of emotion as the power play unfolds between a man with everything and one with nothing to lose, and it is well-suited to the intimacy of the Studio Theatre and Café space. While it does not provide many answers, it raises an array of questions to linger long after experience of the show has ended, as well quality theatre should.