How to review a Fringe show whose cast kidnaps and threatens a theatre critic at gunpoint? Will any positive comments be interpreted as surrendering to the demands of terrorists? Will anything negative be interpreted as cattiness?
Critical! may not be hugely imaginative, but each of its actors efficiently skewers their stereotypical roles
Critical! (A Sociopath’s Guide to Influencing Edinburgh Fringe Reviewers) is one for the die-hard Fringe-goers, or at least for people who want to be. It’s Fringe theatre about Fringe theatre, which is apparently enough to find a full audience on the first rainy Saturday evening of Festival season.
The show opens in the aftermath of 12 Angry Men: A One Woman Show, the latest in a long string of Fringe flops from the farcically untalented (fictional) writer/director Finton McGlynn. His longtime nemesis Scotsman theatre critic Bernadette Savage persists in giving one-star reviews to his various terrible productions, which include Geordie Sock Puppets do Hamlet and Myra Hindley the Musical. With their arts council funding on the line, McGlynn and his theatre company hatch a plan to kidnap Bernadette Savage and force her to submit a five-star review.
The Fringe is now big enough to sustain a few of these self-referential, meta shows, although it’s difficult to make them relatable and entertaining without them starting to feel too smug and elitist. Critical! may not be hugely imaginative, but each of its actors efficiently skewers their stereotypical roles: the vapid, self-obsessed young actress, the gaffer-tape-obsessed stagehand, etc. Funny, but not hilarious.
Critical! intersperses its main storyline with little snippets of Fringe-related advice, all of which gets a good laugh from the audience. My personal favourite was “Never go to anything labeled ‘experimental’ or ‘innovative,’ because you’ll always end up in a portacabin while a group of drama students paint jam on their naked bodies.” One day earlier, I had myself been in a portacabin where a young man stripped to his pants and poured coffee all over himself. As a satire of Fringe cliches, Critical! was certainly accurate.