REVIEW: The Real Inspector Hound

Smoking guns and theatre critics — oh, my! Jamie P. Robson investigates ‘The Real Inspector Hound’.

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Stoppard’s play is an intricate pleasure, handled with admirable flair by directors William Ashford and Ronald Prokes.

The action revolves around the conceit of a play-within-a-play: critics Birdboot and Moon take their seats to watch a new play, a classic whodunnit; and as they observe the play, we regard both them and that play. The ‘fictional’ play — as opposed to the real play we’re watching — is, in its own right, an amusing parody of a typical murder mystery, all outrageously emphasised red herrings, unclear motives, dramatic deaths, romantic intrigue and dramatic reveals of identity.

Within the play’s play, a few characters shine: Isla Iago’s Felicity — with her pouty, limelight-craving overacting — epitomises the delightfully exaggerated tone, whilst Mrs Drudge (Lucy Gledhill-Flynn), as her name suggests, stomps about the stage, entertaining with bluntly expositional dialogue and accomplished physical comedy.

Lucy Gledhill-Flynn as Mrs. Drudge (Image Credit: Johannes Hjorth)

Inspector Hound escalates into chaotic brilliance, however, when the critics step through the fourth wall, themselves becoming part of the play they’re watching, unable to control or even comprehend what’s happening. The thrilling coalescence of these two worlds — the ‘real’ and ‘fictional’ worlds of the play — makes this play a uniquely exciting prospect. As the critics stumble into a script they’ve never rehearsed, the unstoppable progress of the play-within-the-play to its twist-filled ending is as hilarious as it is magnetic.

Isla Iago as Felicity (Image Credit: Johannes Hjorth)

Regarding those critics: the artist and the critic, the creative and the arbiter, enjoy a kind of uneasy symbiosis, although there can arise certain tensions — even disagreements! Stoppard’s play is a truly glorious send up of the profession. Myriad elements of the job are fantastically satirised: the bombast, the pretentiousness, the over-intellectual analyses — all is reflected (to considerable comic effect) on stage; so too the inimitably cool bow ties and fezzes of our trade (all true), along with the tendency for some critics to abuse their power to secure amorous liaisons with eager young starlets (no comment).

Ben Martineau as Inspector Hound (Image Credit: Johannes Hjorth)

Birdboot — best described as a relentless, somewhat unscrupulous romantic — is imbued by Clara Strandhoj with a humorous lack of dignity, amusing throughout. The talented William Ashford memorably portrays second-tier critic Moon, adroitly encompassing the man’s snooty self-satisfaction and contemptuous indignation. His hilarious superimposition of quasi-profound analysis onto what is, essentially, ‘a whodunnit, man!’ is a definite highlight of the production.

Clara Strandhoj as Birdboot and William Ashford as Moon (Image Credit: Johannes Hjorth)

The performance is underscored by some excellent live music, composed especially for the show by Oliver Vibrans. Despite occasionally overwhelming some of the actors, the onstage band’s performance generally works to enhance the atmosphere, heightening moments of comedy and intrigue alike.

The Real Inspector Hound offers a wonderful evening of entertainment — but why believe a critic? Go find out for yourselves.

4.5/5 stars