When the Critic's Chickens Come Home to Roost

“Anyone can destroy a bad play.  It takes talent and reputation to destroy a good one!”


Gemma Pantaleo as Alex and Gary Heron as Hugh (Photo: Robert Piwko

If you are finding some of the big West End productions out of your price range and a tad jaded, you would do better to explore some of the smaller theatre venues London has to offer.  My latest find is maybe the smallest, certainly the most intimate at just 32 seats.  It is in a famous theatrical street housing the Old Vic and the Young Vic – perhaps it should be subtitled the Nursery Vic in The Cut?  Stoke on Trent has taken the New Vic.  It is spitting distance from the Vaults and The Union Theatre.

Calder Bookshop specialising in theatre books and texts as well as philosophy and politics with a beautiful resident cat called Puppy, has been there from 2011 and tucked behind the bookshop is a performing space.  I wanted to see the play there because of its title The Critic, note: Not the Blogger or the Influencer!

The play opens with Hugh (Gary Heron) phoning a friend, well a colleague or a rival critic, with some jubilant news as to his selection for a safe Tory seat, but first he has to clear the skeletons out of his closet.  He phones Monique his girlfriend and masseuse to arrange a celebration breaking into rather poor French. We are in Hugh’s luxury flat, the walls dripping with expensive and original art and we have just met this self centred, self absorbed divorcé.  On the table are copies of his latest book, Alternative Therapy drawing attention to his appearances on BBC’s Question Time

Gary Heron as Hugh (Photo: Robert Piwko)

As he puts on his silk kimono ready to welcome Monique, there is a ring at the door.  A woman (Gemma Pantaleo) dressed in black is pointing a gun at Hugh.  She is extremely agitated, nervous, twitchy and we have no reason to think she will not pull the trigger.  Hugh is terrified and has no idea who she is.  Death threats are not news to Hugh, he was sorting his mail earlier into a box labelled Death Threats.  Like Hugh we are close enough to feel threatened by someone unhinged.

What is even creepier is the detailed research this woman has done into Hugh’s life, ex-wife and mistress. As the play develops we learn about the life of Hugh and Alex and where they intersect.  John Hill’s dialogue, given the tension of the situation, is well written, drawing out the answers to the questions we are asking in our head.  Hugh is very nervous for his collection of vintage wine at £2000 a bottle and Alex is wielding one of his golf clubs. 

I really enjoyed being so close to these actors under Sally Ripley’s direction with the frisson of danger and retribution.  It was refreshing to see The Critic.

Gemma Pantaleo as Alex and Gary Heron as Hugh (Photo: Robert Piwko

Production Notes

The Critic
Written by John Hill

Directed by Sally Ripley



Gary Heron

Gemma Pantaleo


Director: Sally Ripley

Designer:  Jay Hobson

Sound Designer: Hugh Lee and Luis Gayol

Recordings voiced by

Imogen Slaughter

Matt Brood

Jenny Hobson

John Hill

Sally Ripley


Running Time: Two hours minutes with a 5 minute interval

Booking to 10th December 2022 on

Wednesdays, Thursdays,

Fridays and Saturdays

Website: calderbookshop.com


Calder Bookshop and Theatre

51 The Cut

SE1 8LF. 

Box Office: 020 7620 2900.

Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge

at the Calder Bookshop and  


on 19th November 2022