The Critic

It has terrific comic performances, put a number of competing angles bring confusion rather than clarity to this show


The Culture Box


Is there anything a critic can say about a staging of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s play that won’t result in a resounding rebuttal delivered in Sheridan’s own words: “The newspapers! Sir, they are the most villainous — licentious — abominable — infernal . . . ” Egad, in its lampooning of the theatre and the institutions that support and deride it, The Critic has every possible response to it sewn up. In this new production for Rough Magic, director Lynne Parker uses Sheridan’s meta-theatrical interests as a prompt to engage with contemporary as well as historical theatrical models. Indeed, Parker stages the play itself as a “play within a play”, adding an extra layer of mischief to Sheridan’s satire, alas at the expense of clarity.

The production opens in The Culture Box, a gallery remade as an intimate performance space in which the audience are seated like participants. It is a deliberate device to break traditional fourth-wall conventions, which Parker follows up in a series of contemporary interjections that take “liberal advantage” of the license Sheridan gives his fictional author to “cut out or omit whatever [is] heavy or unnecessary to the plot.” Peter Daly acts as our “Interpreter”, introducing the production’s conceit and the principal characters : theatre critics Mr Dangle (Darragh Kelly) and Mr Sneer (Ronan Kelly); Dangle’s pragmatic wife (Eleanor Methven); and dramatists Sir Fretful Plagiary (Rory Nolan) and Mr Puff (Karl Sheils).

Daly stage-manages the actors as they have a lively debate about the merits of the theatre – entertainment versus moral conscience – and interjects to explain references that might elude a contemporary audience. It is a strange structural intervention that betrays a lack of faith in the material itself and in the audience’s own interpretive faculties.

The second half of the production moves us to The Ark, where Daly reveals himself to be the director of Mr Puff’s latest tragedy, albeit a modern director with a contemporary approach, instructing a group of student actors through rehearsal. He holds Peter Brook’s bible The Empty Space in hand and quotes significant passages that culminate in a dramatic finale that juxtaposes Rough Magic’s production against the Dublin streets in an arresting way. Carl Kennedy’s persuasive soundtrack convinces emotionally but the interplay of extra-textual material adds more confusion rather than any clarity. There are just too many competing aesthetics and ideologies at play in Parker’s production, and despite some terrific comic performances the historical and contemporary angles remain equally unsatisfying.However, a critic’s opinion is, after all, “villainous—licentious—abominable—infernal.” But maybe it is also “the best panegyric”.

Until October 12