Jamie (Louise Cocks) is a theatre critic. Her editor, Susan (Angelique Malcolm), tells her she cannot review her friend, Emma’s (Alicia Beckhurst) play, so she attends as a civilian along with her housemate, Ellie (Rose Flanagan). It’s a good thing too, because the play is awful. Jamie has barely enough time to wipe her brow in relief before Susan interrupts. There’s an emergency at the paper and Jamie has to write the review. And she has to be honest. And she is. Emma doesn’t take it well, and Jamie wrestles with the cost of maintaining one’s artistic integrity when friendship is at stake.
A former reviewer himself, moments in Gabriel Bergmoser’s script rang very true indeed. Admittedly, the ending fell away a bit – like a song that keeps playing, but the volume fades down to silence. However, that comes after the surprise of having Jamie hear Emma’s apology, but choosing not to reconcile. It’s an unexpected moment, yet consistent with Jamie’s character, which speaks to another quality of the script: The characters are fully realised on a haphazard Club Voltaire stage, and consistent – never an easy feat, especially with a shorter page count.
Presenting with near-constant hand-wringing, and body vibrations so fast Barry Allen would struggle to keep up, Louise’s performance as Jamie was heightened to a point almost too high in comparison with those around her. But then, near the end, she slips out from underneath Jaime’s anxiety revealing a person more resolute and certain, a thespianic Trojan Horse.
Rose seemed the most comfortable of the four in her role as Ellie. In some ways, she’s only there to serve a function, giving Jamie someone to talk to. She’s also where a lot of the levity is to be found and, to be sure, every one of her pithy bites got a good laugh. Angelique’s performance as Susan was good, walking the fine tightrope of being just kind enough with Jamie to give an impression of a mentor, without ever letting the audience (or Jamie) forget she’s also the boss.
Alicia did well in the role of Emma. Her anger was pitched thankfully away from malevolence. You didn’t need her later contrition to realise the vitriol given to Jamie was all about hurt feelings. As the script offers, criticism shouldn’t be personal, yes what Alicia gave was a portrayal of someone who couldn’t see Jamie’s opinion as anything but.
On a more capable stage, and with some tinkering under the hood script-wise, The Critic would be an exceptional watch. For now though, this iteration was fine enough, a lovely wee bit of theatre.
Voltaire, 14 Raglan Street, North Melbourne
Performance: Thursday 13 October 2016
Season: 6 – 15 October 2016
Image: courtesy of Bitten By Productions
Review: David Collins