The Real Inspector Hound
Friends of Peterhouse Theatre, 7.30pm, until Sun 26 Nov
The Real Inspector Hound, now on at the Friends of Peterhouse Theatre, has all the wit and originality that we expect from Tom Stoppard’s plays. Parodying the country house ‘whodunit’, it subverts the familiarity of the murder mystery into a satisfyingly complex metatheatrical comedy. This Freshers cast, directed by Hannah Marcus and assistant director Alex Laar, deals with Stoppard’s script with both flair and confidence, a by no means easy feat.
The opening of the play was more than a little bemusing. Two critics, Birdboot played by William Kennaway and Moon played by Robert Foxall-Smith, sit on the edge of the stage behind a partition and begin their speculations. The stage itself is covered in a surreal juxtaposition of furniture and a dead body, which remains unnoticed for forty minutes of the action. The critics’ comment “Has it started yet?” summed up nicely the feeling in the audience. Soon however Stoppard’s playful dialogue and Marcus’ clever staging worked their magic, encouraging the audience to become immersed in the play’s bizarre logic. Mrs Drudge the housekeeper, played by Florence Allday, was immediately a hit. Allday’s performance must be particularly commended; while her hunched back played up to the stereotypical old housekeeper, her sudden changes in intonation also had the power to surprise and thrill the audience.
The pretensions of the critics Birdboot and Moon were used to generate humour throughout the play. Both Kennaway and Foxall-Smith were able to revel in their roles, giving convincing performances throughout. In one memorable scene their dialogue overlaps, with one talking about his desire to kill a rival critic and the other discussing his conquests in love. Stoppard may have denied that the play was a satire of the critical establishment, which he himself had been a part of in his early career. Nevertheless Moon’s pronouncement that the play begs the question “Where is God?” can’t help but be a bit of a mocking jibe at our critical assumptions.
The only flaw in Marcus’ and Laar’s version of the play is perhaps its failure to make enough of the overlap between the world of the critics and the play within the play. Rather than becoming intertwined with the internal play, the critics’ early speeches seemed to fragment the play and make it somewhat disjointed. They could have done more with Birdboot’s entry into the play to pick up the telephone, which marks a final breaking down of the ‘fourth wall’.
That said the fast-paced second half must be seen as triumphant. The Inspector Hound, played by Theo McCausland, was suitably over-sincere and incompetent. Melanie Everton as Cynthia used her sequined dress to full effect in her role as the seductive, yet grieving, lover. All in all the play was, in the words of Birdboot, “a rattling good evening out” and definitely worth watching.