★★★★★ A Critical Stage
As a critic manqué, I have written more than 200 reviews over the last five years for my blog, The Review Chap, and feel a lot of empathy – even sympathy - for Gareth Armstrong’s beautifully drawn critic, James Agate (Jeremy Booth), in his truly stylish, intelligent, smart new drama.
Set in wartime London in 1942, Agate, a famous author and theatre critic, has written a damning review of Gwen (Barbara Wilshere), a prominent actress who confronts him in a lively battle of words. He is looked after by Smike (Sam Hill), a young and ever- tolerant houseboy and also has a volatile relationship with his secretary, Leo (David Acton), an Austrian Jewish refugee. Agate’s increasingly careless behaviour is not going unnoticed with his bosses at the Sunday Times newspaper…
This tight ensemble all give beautifully nuanced performances. They interface beautifully with exquisite, seamless and immaculate timing and pace. Jeremy Booth simply inhabits the role of Agate, with his grand gestures, achingly knowledgeable asides and more name (and restaurant) drops than Christopher Biggins!
Barbara Wilshere’s Gwen is everybody’s favourite grande dame of the theatre, played with power and enormous style, but with the most caring undertones for the characters around her, especially David Acton’s Leo, who gives a heartfelt, credible and intrinsically compassionate performance as the Agate’s secretary and closet piano virtuoso. Sam Hill’s Smike is gloriously optimistic as Agate’s much put-upon houseboy, extracting much well-placed humour and comedy from his well-timed, observations, asides and comments.
Written and directed by Gareth Armstrong, A Critical Stage is beautifully conceived with a huge depth of knowledge informing the story and realisation onto stage. It was also exquisitely crafted from the moment you arrived at the theatre with an unbelievable set designed by Hazel Owen and a soundtrack by Simon Beyer.
A Critical Stage is another unmistakable tour de force production from Simon and Sarah Reilly for Take Note Theatre, the wonderful team behind Chiswick's Tabard theatre.
As I left the theatre, I heard the couple sitting next to me say they are looking forward to Dal Segno Friday Night at the Gigi, the next production at The Tabard. Unable to resist, I asked if they were regulars? They both smiled and said, ‘seemingly so,’ as they had seen Next Door’s Baby and were looking forward to the next! That ultimately is one of the best reviews?
A Critical Stage runs until 17 June Tickets: tabard.org.uk