The Real Inspector Hound

Tue 30th October – Sat 3rd November 2012

reviews

Robin Gimm

at 01:01 on 31st Oct 2012

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When I walked into the cozy, little studio space where 'The Real Inspector Hound' was to take place my attention was immediately drawn toward an actor, already positioned, playing dead on the floor. There was a moment of confusion among the audience as we watched another actor, Mr. Ed Barr-Sim, take his own seat directly across from the ‘real’ audience. The lights dimmed and we all fell silent. However, all Mr. Barr-Sim did was sit and wait like a regular audience member, ready to critique the play that was about to unfold before both of us. This prompted some quiet, awkward conversation and some stifled giggles among the ‘real’ audience.

After this awkward pause, the arrival of Mr. Sam Carter, playing the fellow critic, Birdboot, initiated the action and dialogue, relieving us of that awkward moment of paused uncertainty. Soon enough, the actors themselves are forced to wait for their ‘murder mystery’ play to begin and would even comment on how terrible it was to begin a play with a pause. These feelings of awkward confusion and self-deprecating humor prove to be a constant for the rest of the play. 'The Real Inspector Hound' had me laughing almost constantly for the all-too-short duration, but I was also left with a vague sense of puzzlement that I am even now still trying to sort out in my head.

Despite the fact that I am still trying to sort out the intricacies of the play itself, I thoroughly enjoyed the energy the entire cast brought to the humorous play. I would also just like to tip my hat to whoever played the corpse opening night. Lloyd Houston, Shahab Raza, or Dafydd Jenkins, did an excellent job staying still on the floor for a very long time. Kudos to you, sirs. The rest of the cast do an excellent job acting out in a bemusing fashion the exaggerated caricatures that are highlighted in the play.

'The Real Inspector Hound' however is more than just a barrel full of laughs and wit. It pokes fun at the world of theater itself. The murder mystery was full of exaggerated acting and dramatic plot devices, illustrating the formula or outline that most stories and plays seem to follow. Birdboot draws attention to the predictability that comes with genre; declaring from the very beginning, very accurately, who was the ‘red herring’ and identifying the character 'whodunit'. As a reviewer myself, I also keenly felt the jabs at the entire world of theatrical critique with its petty jealousies, sexual favors, and ultimately as a breeding-ground of pretention.

Moon, played by Mr. Barr-Sim, frequently regales the audience with his running critique of the play – sprinkling references to philosophers and offering highbrow, but scathing commentary for a small-scale murder mystery that simply was not worthy of review. The play that resided within the play is purposefully a funny and clever display of bad theater, which served to highlight the absurdity of the criticism that Moon and Birdboot offer.

However, the play within a play formula breaks down about midway through the play. The critics become embroiled almost seamlessly into the plot of the murder mystery itself. Moon’s jealousy of a rival critic and Birdboot’s womanizing tendancies allow them to fit into the murder mystery itself, creating a rather bizarre situation. The critics become embroiled in the life of the play they are watching while maintaining awareness that they are not characters of the play. But perhaps this breakdown of the critics’ fourth wall has a deeper meaning than the comedy of the entire play would suggest. The disturbing reality is that the so-called real-life concerns of Moon and Birdboot somehow fit them right into the world of the play without any real disruption of the plot. Perhaps 'The Real Inspector Hound' wants us to consider that the dealings of our own real lives are just as formulaic and predictable as the lives and events of the theater. Perhaps, underneath all the humor, this play illustrates how stories in the theater, as dramatic and predictable as the plots may be, are just reflections of the lives of real people.

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Marta Codello

at 01:18 on 31st Oct 2012

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‘Moon and Birdboot started off simply as two people in an audience, until it occurred to me that making them critics would give them something to be and give me something to play with’.

(Tom Stoppard, from the introduction to his collected Plays)

Sitting in the second row at the BT tonight as a wannabe critic was quite a surreal experience: what I could see right before my eyes was a reflection of myself both onstage (with added tie), and to my immediate right, an empty seat with a ‘Reserved’ sign among the audience which sent my critical mind into a spin.

The beginning of the play was very well executed and, despite the lack of space for a full-blown Stoppard-ian rendition, the cast and crew succeeded in creating the perfect atmosphere. Ed Barr-Sim as Moon (with his incredibly expressive eyes!) was sitting on a ‘Reserved’ seat upstage flicking through the play’s programme. This created an intentionally uncomfortable situation that unsettled us, members of the audience, who were almost unable to discern the ‘play’ from the ‘reality’, as proved by the nervous laughter which erupted during the long, silent, scene. This awkwardness was echoed in the critics’ initial conversation where Birdboot doubts that the play ‘has started yet’ and rather suggests that there is ‘panic back there’.

The two realities on stage were distinguished both by being situated on different levels (with the critics significantly placed higher, on a platform) and by the clever use of lighting (designed and executed respectively by George Harding and Henry Fletcher). After having started off with a clear division between critics and actors’ spheres the lights skillfully mirror the play’s progressive jumbling of character groups and eventually blend the two levels.

The enveloping of the parallel and intertwining stories on stage was smooth and well orchestrated: the actors were excellent and their comedic timing provided for some good fun. Special mention for Phoebe Hames and her hilarious Mrs. Drudge.

Overall a very carefully crafted production, convincing both in its rendition more generally and in its attention to technical detail. Great fun and highly recommended to anyone who fancies themselves a critic!

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