Trying to describe The Real Inspector Hound in a few words is near impossible.
To do so would also ruin some of the surprises awaiting audiences in this absurdist comedy.
However, as Artefact Theatre’s staging of Tom Stoppard’s one act play reveals, there are many laughs along the way as the audience deals with the plot’s many twists and turns.
The play, which Stoppard wrote in the early 1960s, is a parody of classic theatrical mystery such as the long running Agatha Christie play The Mousetrap.
The Real Inspector Hound is best described as a play-within-a play. Theatre critics Moon (Annabelle Tudor) and Birdboot (James Cutler) are reviewing the play being staged by the Piccadilly Players at the Palava Theatre Soho, London.
The play is set in a desolate manor on a dark and stormy night. A message comes over the radio advising police are searching for a murderer on the loose in the surrounding moors.
The lady of the manor, Cynthia Muldoon (Julia Grace), is still in love with her husband, Albert, who disappeared without a trace 10 years earlier. That, however, doesn’t stop her flirting with her mysterious and recently arrived house guest Simon Gascoyne (Ben Andrews). Gascoyne has also had a fling with another guest, Felicity Cunningham (Seon Williams).
Another resident of the house is Albert’s suspicious-looking half-brother Magnus (Dylan Watson) who is confined to a wheelchair. Keeping a track of who is coming and going and what’s being said is the housekeeper Mrs Drudge (Bridie Pamment).
A dead body on the floor in the parlour is not discovered by any of the household until the arrival of Inspector Hound (Ross Dwyer).
During the first half of the play both Moon and Birdboot provide an insight into the type of reviews they are planning to write – reviews which are best described as ‘pompous’ and ‘pretentious’. Clearly both are impressed by their own intellect however each is also facing personal challenges and insecurities.
A continually ringing phone on the play’s set during interval then sees Moon and Birdboot move from the audience and become part of the play.
One of the joys of Artefact’s production is the performance of the cast, all of whom seem to have great fun with their characters. It’s hard to know how challenging it is for good actors to ‘overact’ as Grace, Andrews, Williams and Watson do, but they all do it with aplomb. Their facial expressions and movements are, at times, very funny.
Tudor and Cutler are also enjoyable to watch as are the expressions of audience members who find themselves seated next to the actors.
The ‘program’ produced by the Picadilly Players to go with` their production’ also provides many laughs.
And then, of course, there is Stoppard’s plot which combines farce, parody and satire and possibly a touch of revenge. One wonders how many theatre critics have re-read their reviews after listening to the critiques of Moon and Birdboot!
The Real Inspector Hound is playing at St Martins Youth Arts Centre, 28 St Martins Lane South Yarra until May 15. Visit the Artefact Theatre website for more information and tickets.
*Photo credit: Ben Andrews
- live shows, Melbourne, reviews
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