The Critic

Written by Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Monday 3rd December to Saturday 8th December 1973

Directed by John Scadding

A festive comedy, all singing all dancing, with entirely new scenic effects freshly painted at great expense. Operatic arias and orchestral effects [direct from the Theatre Royal Drury Lane]. God save the Queen!

AuthorRichard Brinsley Sheridan

Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751 - 1816)

Not only was Sheridan a playwright but he was also an entrepreneur, MP and renowned orator. Born in Dublin he was schooled at Harrow for six years, before moving to Bath. In 1773 Sheridan eloped with singer Elizabeth Linley and the couple were married in Calais, but not before he fought a famous duel in 1772 with Captain Thomas Mathews following a newspaper article which defamed Linley. During the duel Sheridan suffered serious multiple injuries.

Sheridan wrote his first play, 'The Rivals' in 1775 which was a failure on its first night. However, with a re-cast leading man, it went on to become a huge success. In 1777 he wrote 'A School For Scandal' - arguably his most famous play and followed it with 'The Critic' in 1779. Sheridan's play writing career was relatively short, and even as 'A School For Scandal' was running at Drury Lane, Sheridan had already decided to abandon writing and concentrate on politics, and in 1780 he became MP for Stafford. Here he became a well known and controversial figure, using his dramatic talent to good effect in his oratory. An advocate of the rights of the American colonies, Sheridan was also an advocate of press freedom and opposed attempts to use libel laws to prevent criticism of the government.

Sheridan was also well-known as a theatre entrepreneur, but it seems his head for business was not a good one. In 1776 he bought the Drury Lane Theatre in partnership with his father-in-law. After staging 'School for Scandal', he pulled down the old theatre and built a new one, which opened in 1794. The building project ran hugely over budget, and was expensive to run when completed. Revenue from extra seats did not cover extra costs, and financial problems were now a constant feature of Sheridan's life. Sheridan's bad luck continued when a fire destroyed the theatre in 1809. By 1813 Sheridan was bankrupt and under arrest as a debtor. Only the intervention of his friend Samuel Whitbread allowed his release. Whitbread agreed to fund the building of the Drury Lane Theatre but Sheridan had to withdraw from its management. Sadly Sheridan's finances never recovered and he died in poverty in July 1816.

PlayThe Critic

'The Critic: or, a Tragedy Rehearsed' is a satire. The last of Sheridan's three plays, it is a burlesque on stage acting and play production conventions. Sheridan considered the first act to be his finest piece of writing. One of its major roles, Sir Fretful Plagiary, is a comment on the vanity of authors and in particular a caricature of the dramatist Richard Cumberland. Based on George Villiers' The Rehearsal, it concerns misadventures that arise when an author, Mr Puff, invites Sir Fretful Plagiary and the theatre critics Dangle and Sneer to a rehearsal of his play The Spanish Armada, Sheridan's parody of the then fashionable tragic drama.

The Bench Production

The Critic poster image

This play was staged under Bench Theatre's original company name of Theatre Union, at their theatre in West Street. It was actually the building in West Street, Havant where most of the Company's early plays were staged, which was called the Bench Theatre (after its prior use as a magistrates' court). The company's name was changed gradually by word of mouth and general usage between the years 1973 - 1977 when reviewers, and then members themselves, gradually stopped referring to Theatre Union and started calling the company of players 'Bench Theatre'. The new Company name of Bench Theatre was adopted in to all the promotional literature after they moved from the old theatre (which had been their home for nearly 7 years) in to the Old Town Hall building in East Street.


The Play

DangleMr Wilson
SneerMr Lings
Sir Fretful PlagiaryMr Osborne
Signor Pasticcio RitornelloMr Montefiore
InterpreterMr Anderson
Under PrompterMr King
PuffMr Mahoney
Mrs DangleMrs Prowse
Signore Pasticcio RitornelloMrs Star
ServantsMrs Moore
Miss Jones
Mrs Jevons
Miss Randall
Miss Bridle

The Tragedy

Lord BurleighMr Corrigan
Governor of TilburyMr Montefiore
Earl Of LeicesterMr Noble
Sir Walter RaleighMr Anderson
Sir Christopher HattonMr Ream
Master of the HorseMr Spackman
Don Ferolo WiskerandosMr Osborne
BeefeaterMr Noble
JusticeMr Spackman
SonMiss Bridle
ConstableMr Ream
ThamesMrs Jevons
TilburinaMiss Caddy
ConfidanteMrs Starr
Justice's LadyMrs Daines
First NieceMiss Jones
Second NieceMrs Jaques
BritanniaMiss Randall

Director's Notes

This play comes from the same pen which wrote 'The Rivals' and 'School for Scandal'. It is a joyous attack on the more ludicrous theatrical mannerisms of Sheridan's day. It is a play about actors, actresses and about the theatre and lovers of the theatre. It lovingly knocks the whole crazy business of putting on plays. It is a sort of celebration of the theatre itself and seems just the right thing to put on in the glum days of winter. We hope you will warm to the wit and laugh at the nonsense of it as we did rehearsing it.

John Scadding


The NewsA.W.G.

Warm reception for Bench's Sheridan

Visitors to Havant's Bench Theatre can always be sure of one thing: the versatile Theatre Union company will have some surprises in store. Few artists work in such confined space as the old court house, but for every production it is magically transformed, so that one is never sure which part of the floor will be stage and which auditorium. On occasions the dividing line is so blurred that players and audience literally rub shoulders. The big surprise in the latest offering, Sheridan's 'The Critic', is that the tiny venue has been converted into a traditional 18th century auditorium and proscenium stage, creating an illusion that each is about twice life-size. Thanks to a timely civic grant, seating and heating has been vastly improved.

'The Critic' is a highly ambitious undertaking, given the limitations of the theatre. With more than 20 artists on stage, and a realistic representation of Drake's fire ships clashing with galleons of the Spanish Armada in the finale, the production calls for ingenuity in direction that at times defies the laws of space and motion. In the most ideal circumstances this is not the easiest of Sheridan's plays to put over. It suffers from a lack of balance, in that the first act is mainly stagy talk, calling for great skill in holding an audience, while the second is packed with lively action and fun. In trying to give the opening act pace was a first-night tendency to trip over the dialogue so zestfully that at times it became almost incoherent, but this should be overcome as the production shakes down. Mr and Mrs Dangle (Clive Wilson and Cindy Prowse) work hard to get the play moving, and show nice judgement in the characterisations. Tim Mahoney as Puff, brings his customary talent to bear in the role of the playwright whose brainchild forms the second act. But this introductory piece is dominated by Ray Osborne's Sir Fretful Plagiary, whose exchanges with the critics of his own play are pure fun, laced with cruelly sharpened barbs timeless in their topicality.

In the second act the whole cast enjoys itself immensely, its enthusiasm bubbling over into the audience as Puff tries to explain the subtleties of his play to critics Dangle and Sneer (David Lings) and wrestles tirelessly with a cast he thinks is mangling his 'immortal' lines. Ingrid Caddy as Tilburina and her confidante, Tony Starr, are splendid in the mad scene, and the sea-battle climax is a real tour-de-force. A merry prologue, contrived by Messrs Scadding and Spackman, in which the Spirit of Theatre Union is joyously by Mrs Morgan is a lively launching pad for what follows. The company deserves an A+ marking for enterprise in tackling a play that would daunt many producers blessed with all the facilities of a full-sized stage. June Jaques deserves special mention for designing and executing their costumes.

The News, 4th December 1973

Production Photographs