New Venture Theatre (19th April 2017)
‘The Real Inspector Hound’ is one of Stoppard’s funniest plays, a surreal comedy set in a theatre, where an Agatha Christie style whodunit is being performed and watched by two critics, Moon and Birdboot. The play within a play is a take-off of ‘The Mousetrap’, in which – in the words of theatre director Charles Markowitz – “the actors inherit their roles like malignant tumours”.
But what really motors the play into realms of philosophical absurdity are the hapless figures of Moon and Birdboot, the critics obsessed with their own comic agendas. Moon hates being a second-string to the lead critic Higgs and dreams of killing him, while Birdboot is a philanderer, taking actresses out after the show, at the same time maintaining he is faithful to his wife Myrtle.
The play within a play is set in Muldoon Manor, a country house surrounded by ‘desolate marshes’ and ‘treacherous swamps’ and is a direct parody of Agatha Christie’s ‘closed’ settings in which no one can enter or leave, so the characters know that the murderer must be one of them. It opens with a body lying on an otherwise empty stage. Simon, a mysterious young man new in the neighbourhood enters the house, and it is revealed that he has dumped Felicity Cunningham for her friend Cynthia Muldoon, the lady of the house. In the audience Birdboot has mentally done the same.
Eventually Inspector Hound arrives on the scene, apparently searching for a madman, and the company finally notices the body. When they split up to search the house, Simon comes onstage, examines the body and is shot. His death presents another mystery: who killed Simon and why?
Between the acts Moon and Birdboot continue their hilarious soliloquies from their seats in the audience, sometimes about their reviews and sometimes about their obsessions: killing Higgs and Birdboot’s newly found passion for Cynthia. As the show continues, both critics are gradually drawn onto the stage, with catastrophic consequences.
The play celebrates Stoppard’s word-playing intellectuality, his selfconscious theatricality and his love of reworking pre-existing narratives. In this production we have pared the set down to the bones, to focus the attention on the characters, relentlessly driving the action through two successive (but very different) performances of the play within a play, while the critics soar to ever more funny and pretentious heights in their parodies of criticism.
This production is brought to life by a fabulous cast and crew, to whom many thanks. They have been a pleasure to work with, and have come up with numerous good ideas about the interpretation of Stoppard’s words. I hope he would be proud of what we’ve done. Mary Allen – Director