Theatre at the Tabard Hits its Highest Bar

Susan Stanley-Carroll lauds Gareth Armstrong's 'A Critical Stage'

Jeremy Booth as James Evershed Agate. Picture: Charles Flint

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June 11, 2023

“The Critical Stage” by Gareth Armstrong is the World Premiere of a story based on real people and real events.

And what a brilliant World Premiere it is:

- The script is faultless, cerebral, coruscating and totally absorbing.

- The acting is faultless, dynamic, emotional and totally absorbing.

It is a tantalising production that covers a range of issues pertinent to both 1942 and 2023: anti semitism, homophobia, and the significant role of the critic and the artist, be the artist writer, actor, musician, director or designer.

Set in 1942 it concerns an exceptionally significant yet belligerent, egotistical Sunday Times Theatre Critic: James Evershed Agate. He adamantly refuses to alter his salacious life style and is definitively ‘caught out’, having lost his trousers, while ‘at it’ in an insalubrious men’s club. He is devastated by the attitude taken by Lord Kemsley, owner of ‘The Sunday Times’, but somehow the young Harold Hobson calms the storm.

Jeremy Booth plays Agate to perfection - from the first moment we watch him in an indelicate situation to the final moment as he wistfully fits together a jigsaw puzzle while listening to the BBC. All the time you cannot take your eyes off Jeremy - his charismatic performance is brilliant.

David Acton is outstanding too as Leo; Agate’s unassuming, loyal secretary. David gives a beautifully timed and nuanced performance. It is palpably poignant: he creates an exquisite moment, in the theatre, when there was ‘a specific electrical silence’.

Gwen, played magnificently by Barbara Wilshere, gives a consummate performance as she sustains her strong roll as a long term, long suffering friend of Agate despite being slated by him in a ‘Sunday Times’ review about her role as Lady Macbeth. Gwen also introduces a degree of sobriety between Leo, James and the combustible Agate.

Barbara Wilshere (left) plays the critic's long suffering friend. Picture: Charles Flint

Sarn Hill as Smike holds his own, despite the charismatic strength of the other three characters, as he doles out doses of common sense despite the many moments of overall emotional charge.

Costume Designer Alice McNicholson provides a constant change of authentic 1940’s clothes that are a joy to look at as worn by both James and Gwen. Their shoes, too, are not to be missed!

Hazel Owen has captured the period in her well furnished stage and at the same time makes the Tabard’s small stage appear twice its normal size.

Finally all praise to Gareth Armstrong for his brilliant script: it is erudite, witty, and plausible. His apparent, easy effortless direction is a delight to ponder later in he day.

Please, please book your seat now, as this production is without doubt one of the finest ever produced at the Tabard, and if we think back the competition has been very, very high.

It is to be hoped that “A Critical Stage” finds itself a much larger audience say the West End; it is a play that will be relished by many who might be feeling a tad jaded by much of today’s theatrical offerings.

‘A Critical Stage’ is a fresh inspiring production that leaves its audience feeling rejuvenated by the antics of the scurrilous but, oh so very, innovative James Evershed Agate, circa 9/09/1877 to 6/06/1947.

Susan Stanley-Carroll

Tickets cost £19.50 or £15.50 for previews, £23.50/£19.50 from 2 – 11 June and £25.50/£21.50 in the final week.

The production runs for one hour fifty minutes including an interval.

You can book all productions online on the Tabard Theatre web site or call the box office on 020 8995 6035 (leave a message if you can’t get through and your call will be returned).

Theatre at the Tabard is at 2 Bath Road, Chiswick (W4 1LW).

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