St Nicholas. By Conor McPherson. Musician: Den Hanrahan. Production design: Imogen Keen. Directed by Shelly Higgs. The Street Theatre. June 5 to 6 at 8pm and June 7 at 3pm. Hosted online via Vimeo, password provided before performance. Free. Bookings: thestreet.org.au.
St Nicholas is not a Christmas play. Nor is it about a saint.
Irish playwright Conor McPherson's one-man play deals with a subject not so dear to theatre creators' hearts: a critic.
Oh, and vampires.
So why is it called St Nicholas?
Director Shelly Higgs says, "I asked myself the same question."
She says from her research, St Nicholas was accompanied by Krampus, a scary demon who dealt with the not-so-good children.
In this one-man play, something is being given, but it is not joy, or anything positive.
In St Nicholas, Craig Alexander plays an unnamed, middle-aged Dublin theatre critic who's telling his story.
Alexander says, "He's not the nicest man in the world."
The critic, who writes for a newspaper, is notorious for writing scathingly harsh, even cruel, reviews and is a powerful influence, hated and feared by the theatre community.
"He's very bitter and incredibly weak - he wants to be something more than he is," Alexander says.
Since the critic is afraid even to try to be creatively successful, he spends his time tearing down those who have been.
Now, the critic is undergoing a belated mid-life crisis after a drunken scandal involving an actress who humiliated him.
He met a vampire named William, who makes the critic - who can be quite charming in person - entice young people and bring them to the vampire and his brides so the creatures can satisfy their cravings.
Higgs says one of the questions the play raises is who is worse, a vampire who sucks people's blood or a critic who feeds on people's creativity, hopes and insecurities, bringing them misery?
While she's a theatre-maker herself, she hastens to add that she does not think all critics are sadistic or that all criticism is destructive.
"Criticism is one thing that authors use to get better," she says. But that sort of constructive feedback is not what the character in the play gives.
"The critic in the story does it just to hold power over people."
The play will be staged for live broadcast with three cameras - two stationary, one moving.
Higgs says musician Den Hanrahan will be on stage throughout, performing an atmospheric guitar and electronic score live.
The director and crew have been working on how to block the action, since, unlike a play on stage, the various cameras control what the audience sees at any particular time.
This also helps Alexander modulate his performance, in which he directly addresses the audience, over two acts (with interval).
Alexander says the play is "a perfect example of a show being a striptease of storytelling".
Not surprisingly, he has his own views on critics and criticism.
"I want to say I don't read reviews - everyone doesn't want to read reviews."
But, he acknowledges, he can't resist the urge to take a look at them. Sometimes he thinks a critic "has completely missed the point of what I'm doing" but even that provides something to ponder: was the critic clueless or was he, as an actor, not conveying the intention effectively?
"I've had some horrible reviews that destroyed me, but I had to pick myself up and go do it again the next night."
The worst such experience he's had was when he saw one critic leaving the theatre during a performance.
"It was dreadful! They left!"
There's not much he could do with that, but he says that when reading reviews, "I try to think of it like this: there's usually something in what they're saying that I can work on."
How will they react to St Nicholas? Time will tell.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.