The Real Inspector Hound
02/12/2010 - 11/12/2010
Written by Tom Stoppard
Directed by Lynne Keen
The Real Inspector Hound is a short play by Tom Stoppard.
The plot follows two theatre critics named Moon and Birdboot who are watching a ludicrous setup of a country house murder mystery, in the style of a whodunit. By chance, they become involved in the action causing a series of events that parallel the play they are watching.
104 London Street, Dunedin
Opens: Thursday 02 December 2010
Until: Saturday 11 December 2010
Moon: Greg Brook
Birdboot: Bernie Crayston
Mrs Drudge: Diana Johnson
Simon: Warren Chambers
Felicity: Kimberley Buchan
Cynthia: Laura Wells
Magnus: Chris Summers
Inspector Hound: Donald Saville-Cook
Dead Body: Maxwel Hall
Radio Announcer: Brian Beresford
Stage Manager: Sarah McCallion
Lighting/Sound: Jeffrey Vaughan
Good show no mystery
Review by Barbara Frame 06th Dec 2010
Plays with other plays embedded into them keep appearing at the Globe Theatre. A couple of years ago we saw A Winter’s Tale, and this year we’ve seen Kindly Leave the Stage and now Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound.
Two critics are watching a staggeringly ludicrous Agatha-Christie style whodunit. Moon (Greg Brook), the younger, consumed by professional antagonisms and intellectual pretension, tries to extract meaning from this tedious rubbish, while Birdboot, who’s been around much longer, is more interested in the actresses than the action. Bernie Crayston plays him with wonderful slyness and fine comic timing, and a cameo scene where Birdboot talks to his wife on the stage telephone before being caught up in the play itself is a minor triumph.
Acting well is one thing: doing a good job of acting actors acting badly is another, and the rest of the cast, whose dialogue consists mainly of cliches, do it splendidly. Especially noteworthy are Kimberley Buchan, who as Felicity spends much of the play glaring magnficiently, Laura Wells as the particularly clueless Cynthia, and young Maxwell Arnott, who passes a lot of time doing something you’ll find out about when you see the play.
Never having seen The Real Inspector Hound, I was delighted to have the opportunity and far from disappointed. Director Lynne Keen and the Globe’s ever-talented crew have provided Dunedin audiences with a very good pre-Christmas treat alternative.
Families, and those who like their comedy raucous and conventional, will have a great time at Red Riding Hood at the Fortune. Those with a taste for convoluted, razor-sharp wit and delicious parody (and critics, of course) may prefer to make their bookings at the Globe.
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer
A classic of parody
Review by Terry MacTavish 04th Dec 2010
A reviewer never feels more self-conscious producing her pen and tiny notebook than at the start of a performance of Tom Stoppard’s delicious spoof of the critic’s calling, The Real Inspector Hound. For the play begins with critics Moon and Birdboot revealing the more sordid aspects of our job, as they settle into their seats opposite us, open their notebooks and box of chocolates, and prepare to review a ghastly period murder-mystery.
Moon, suffering from an inferiority complex because he is a second-string reviewer, substitute for the absent Higgs, compensates with absurdly erudite reviews of even the most obviously fatuous productions. Birdboot, who’s been in the business longer, is more interested in striking up personal relationships with tasty young actresses, though the old goat has the odd gloat over any of his reviews quoted in theatre publicity.
The ridiculous whodunit they are reviewing is a merciless parody of Agatha Christie’s long-running play The Mousetrap. Stoppard, who was once a critic himself, revels in exposing the creaking machinery of the genre, like the radio which whenever switched on just happens to be broadcasting a police update on the madman loose on the moors around the isolated manor.
Housekeeper Mrs Drudge’s opening line as she answers the phone is a model of clumsy exposition: “This is the drawing room of Lady Muldoon’s country estate one morning in early June…I hope nothing is amiss as we, that is Lady Muldoon and her guests, are quite cut off from the rest of the world, including Magnus the wheelchair-ridden half-brother of her ladyship’s late husband Lord Albert Muldoon who went for a walk along the cliffs ten years ago and was never seen again.”
Of course there is a lot amiss, including a corpse under the elegant chaise-longue, ignored by all until the arrival of Inspector Hound (David Keen) with his loud-hailer through which he has been exhorting the fugitive madman, “Don’t be a madman, give yourself up!”. And Mrs Drudge (Di Johnson) is always on hand to overhear each suspect in turn utter the fateful words, “I’ll kill you, Simon Gascoigne!”
This nonsense is lots of fun, but the chief enjoyment comes from the entanglement of our intrepid critics in the onstage action. Impatiently crossing the 4th wall to answer the phone ringing in the drawing room during interval, Moon turns in astonishment to Birdboot: “It’s for you!” The scene is set for typical tongue-in-cheek absurdity from Stoppard, more the clever schoolboy in this 1960s comedy than in his darker later work.
Lynne Keen, making an assured directorial debut at the Globe, demonstrates that like Stoppard, who once was a critic himself, she has a smart understanding of truly awful theatre. Andy Cook’s attractive set succeeds in meeting the tricky sight-line requirements of a play-within-a-play, Lady Muldoon’s drawing room perfectly utilises the trappings of drawing room comedy, and it is a very cute idea to pop the critics into the Globe’s retired red vinyl seats!
Keen’s cast too make the most of the opportunities for stage clichés and over-the-top acting. The characters are naturally stereotypes: the bouncy ingénue Felicity, delightfully portrayed by Kimberley Buchan; the seductive older woman, Lady Muldoon (a soignée Laura Wells); dashing but mysterious Simon Gascoigne (Warren Chambers); and wheelchair-bound Magnus of the implausible wig and dubious accent (Chris Summers). I particularly enjoyed the repeat of Act 1 and the way they all simply accept the fact that Gascoigne is suddenly being performed by Birdboot.
Secretly many of the audience at any play must wish they could be part of the action, but breaking the 4th wall from the auditorium side is generally discouraged, so it is a particular delight to watch the critics embroiled in the play they are reviewing. Of course they have to form a credible contrast to the ham acting of the whodunit, and Bernie Crayston as Birdboot could display a little more confidence, though he is well cast and amusing as the oily philanderer. Greg Brook provides a neat balance as the younger aspirational critic Moon, delivering his intellectually pretentious rants with passion. The comic duet they share of their private thoughts is a highlight.
The first time I saw The Real Inspector Hound was in 1985 at the National in London, directed by Stoppard himself, and double billed with Sheridan’s The Critic. I found it hysterical then, but it’s a long time ago, so after this showing I am quite relieved to report that it does deserve its status as a classic of parody.
The Globe’s production is a zingy finish to the year, though critics (and ham actors) may leave with heads bowed in shame. Stoppard has nailed us. I can’t resist concluding with Moon’s ludicrous pronouncement: “Within the austere framework of what is seen to be on the one level a country house weekend the author has given us – yes, I will go so far – he has given us the human condition!”
PS. I would love to have seen or better still acted in the recent production of Hound by Wellington’s theatre critics – a sporting choice showing a commendable ability to laugh at themselves. It’s a weird job, but they’d miss us if we were bumped off. Wouldn’t they?
Copyright © in the review belongs to the reviewer