Currently at the intimate Studio Theatre, Alex Broun’s The Critic explores the value of theatre reviewers and their apparent make-or-break power over a playwright’s career.
The Critic is a tense two hander in which young playwright Alan Fisher believes something must be done about Karl ‘the Axe’ Anderton, the most influential and acerbic theatre critic in Sydney, when his damning review closes the promising playwright’s comeback play.
Set in a shabby 1-star hotel room, the young playwright (Dallas Fogerty) lures the revered theatre critic (Gary Kliger) for a confrontation that sees roles reversed and secrets revealed.
Kliger as the critic is a man teetering between egotistical righteousness and tactfully trying to negotiate the terms of his release from an unstable captor and Fogerty steps out of his comfort zone from mostly comedic roles to play the challenging role of an angry man on the edge. It’s hard to avoid playing just ‘an angry young man’, but slowing down the text and allowing other emotions to seep through (like betrayal, devastation etc) would give the role more of an arc.
It is likely the playwright is not only looking for revenge, but is also looking for answers as to why he was so wrongly condemned, as well as trying to prove to the critic of the plays worthiness, and indeed his own worthiness as a writer.
The play did raise some important issues, such as: do critics matter, and what makes a critic qualified? While the critic and the playwright both make relevant points about the subjectivity of art and artistic analysis, the play aims not to provide answers, but to create a discourse that lasts after the curtain closes.
And while the play is frequently redundant and could use a trim , the additional layer of referencing other famous playwrights throughout gave depth, not only to the characters in that both the critic and playwright were well versed in the theatre history, thereby giving credence to their arguments, but also Alex Broun the author of the work, equally signifying his credibility as an educated playwright.
Broun has had over 100 plays produced in more than 40 countries. Like The Critic, his work is highly accessible by using unpretentious language in his plays, which often consists of a small cast, lending itself to easily-mountable productions by amateur theatre groups and independent theatre companies such as Studio Theatre.
It’s a bold move to invite reviewers to the opening night of a show which questions the importance of a critic in the theatrical landscape, but a gamble every show takes in order to get the word out there.
Of course as a reviewer, we would be on the side of the critic who believes it is their duty to guide the theatregoing public, given the large theatrical menu to choose from, and that one must do so without worrying about repercussions of the artist or the production company.
Regardless, it is a fair question given the subjectivity and wide audience tastes of such artistic works, and the play does provoke both audience and reviewers alike to be mindful in the way one judges art. What better way to raise the topic than to write a play about it?