We critics like to think we have legions of regular readers. We dream of punters out there thirsty for a leg up on whether something is worth seeing; of fans and devotees who come to trust our honesty and perception. Critics are also insufferably pompous and self-important.
But we also realise deep down that, like parasites, the critic is dependent on someone else doing the work and making the art.
So theatre-makers sweat and bleed; the critic swishes in to deliver short verdicts that elevate or devastate. Prolific playwright and director Alex Broun has obviously had enough of this.
He’s written a two-hander about an aggrieved playwright who kidnaps and tortures a powerful critic who has dammed his work.
In a tiny basement theatre under a Balmain pub crammed with drinkers who couldn’t care about any of this, the playwright and the critic argue out their different positions.
Attractive gym-pumped actor Bren Foster plays the playwright and has enough muscle to be generally threatening to the critic tied to the chair.
But he acts more with his crotch and shoulders, giving us little insight into the personal and artistic desperation that has led the playwright to this.
Our sympathy for him grows with every nasty line from the acerbic critic, who Richard Mason voices endlessly with queeny exclamation marks.
The play’s articulate debate about the worth and legitimacy of theatre criticism becomes involving, as the critic breaks down to reveal his own past playwright ambition.
But what’s missing in this little hotel room of torture is another dynamic between the two, another theme or emotional entanglement to flesh out the characters.
With Foster’s crotch acting, it’s easy to suggest here a sexual attraction, perhaps from the acerbic critic to the writer whose work he has so jealously damned. Something more is needed between or about the two.
Broun directs his own play, which is often a bad idea. By the end, however, he delivers an energetic and incisive argument about theatre critics. But if critics or the theatre they cover are ever going to climb out of the basement and be more relevant, then such plays need to say more than this.
The Critic is at The Crypt Theatre at the Cat and Fiddle Hotel Balmain until 28 May.