City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Death of a Theatre Critic Review

By Vivien Devlin - Posted on 10 August 2010

Death of a Theatre Critic
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Running time: 
Joakim Groth (writer, director), Julian Garner (translator)
Marcus Groth (Director), Simon Macallum (Playwright/ police officer), Tony Donaldson (Theatre Critic/ Lifer/Police officer), Gowan Calder (The Wife/ Psychiatrist)

It’s a brave decision to review a play entitled “Death of a Theatre Critic” especially when the leading actor is the brother of the author. What might happen to this theatre critic if a 2 star review is published?

Fortunately, this macabre black comedy by Joakim Groth is a well-crafted, crisply acted, cool, smart, witty, philosophical thriller with a surprising twist at the end.

First performed in 2008 at the Swedish Theatre in Helsinki, Marcus Groth reprises the role of the protagonist, the Theatre Director, in this English language premiere.

A short prologue introduces us to the themes of classic Greek tragedy regarding the notion of fate leading to inevitable death. We are then drawn into an intriguing cultural debate about the artistic and moral responsibilities regarding the creation and criticism of dramatic performance.

At the police station, theatre director Karlo Menning (Groth) is questioned about the sudden death from heart failure - the result of strangulation - of theatre critic Matteus Breck. Menning explains that he had recently directed a play “Evening With Lama” which Breck had described in his review as “dull and incomprehensible,” perhaps implying more criticism of the direction than the play itself.

While denying any knowledge of the death of the theatre critic, the Director clearly reveals feelings of bitter anger over the review, if not simmering hatred under his thin skin. In attacking and destroying his work in such a damning review, he believes the critic is a kind of murderer. What is more crucial than the who-dun-it murder story is the underlying argument over the power play and role of both a critic and a director.

Gowan Calder plays the Director’s wife as a feisty, independent, sexy lady - endlessly trying on cocktail dresses before a night out. She tries to placate her husband, laughing off the harsh review by even agreeing with Breck that the production was heavy handed and needed more humour. In flashback scenes we meet Breck, performed with stylish panache by Tony Donaldson - subtle, slightly camp, sardonic with a slow drawl and dry wit, reminiscent of the cheeky smile and manner of actor Alan Cumming.

Trapped in the middle between writer, critic and his wife, the Director finds himself becoming more obsessed with the idea of revenge. When the tables are unexpectedly turned, he falls into a downward spiral of self-destruction which may lose him much more than his ego and professional esteem.

Marcus Groth uses his film star talents to bring an intelligent, reflective, quiet intensity to the character, capturing a real sense of his deep passion for the theatre. He describes his recurring image of Breck sitting in the theatre, “with his little white book, scratching in the dark” which gives a brutally honest, chilling picture of the man who has destroyed his work, his life.

In the intimate Pleasance Upstairs theatre, two chairs denote a police interview room, various apartments, psychiatrist office, prison cell and TV studio with four actors, eight characters, a few costumes, lighting and music. It’s a minimalist setting for such an extraordinary, multi-faceted plot which gradually unravels into a clever, contemporary tragi-comedy, morality tale.

Show times
Til 30 August, (not 16), 1.30pm

Ticket prices
£10 (£8.50)