The Real Inspector Hound

When reviewing a play – especially one verging on farce – where two of the main characters are professional theatre critics, it’s hard not to become a tiny bit defensive of the reviewers lot. Admittedly, this particular Tom Stoppard play (first performed in 1968, though originally conceived and written at least six years earlier) has plenty of other targets in its sights; not least the contrived elements of the Agatha Christie-esque “closed” country house murder mystery. Yet it’s the critics, Moon and Birdboot, who are essentially the main characters in The Real Inspector Hound, and neither is a particularly favourable portrait.

To say things don’t end well for either reviewer is hardly a spoiler. But then, these two critics make so such noise that they would nowadays have the actors – if not the rest of the audience – berating them for their arrogance.

Moon (a soberly suited Ben Horner, who certainly has “aloof” nailed) is the pretentious young literary scholar bemoaning his current position as overshadowed understudy to a missing-in-action reviewer by the name of Higgs. Birdbath (a deep-voiced Finlay McAfee), in contrast, is more tabloid, and clearly willing to use his position of “authority”in the world of theatre to wine, dine and bed a succession of suitably impressionable young female actors.

Even though they don’t always bother to listen to each other, caught up – as they are –in the importance of their own thoughts, Moon and Birdbath at least agree on the “play within a play” they are supposedly reviewing. (Their negative view is hardly surprising, given that the play’s an amazingly trite murder mystery set in Muldoon Manor, a remote house surrounded by “desolate marshes”, “treacherous swamps”; it’s also inconveniently situated far from the neared road while being remarkably close to a dangerous cliff.) Dismissive of the blatant red-herrings and the likely identity of the murderer, the pair find themselves crashing through the fourth wall into the play, slipping into their roles as the action suddenly repeats itself.

To say things don’t end well for either reviewer is hardly a spoiler. But then, these two critics make so such noise that they would nowadays have the actors – if not the rest of the audience – berating them for their arrogance.

Speedily presented, this production by Edinburgh University Theatre Company is not without its problems; though word-perfect, some of the cast have yet to perfect the projection of their voices without appearing to shout (even though the 90-seater Bedlam Theatre is hardly the world’s largest auditorium), while the deliberately (one assumes) snobbish accents of the critics are not always clear. The over-acting of the rest of the cast – especially Joseph McAulay as a sugar-rushed Inspector Hound – is on occasions achieved more with confidence than precision, but praise is particularly deserved for Leyla Doany as Muldoon Manor’s gratuitously scene-setting maid Mrs Drudge, a Blackadder-esque “Mrs Miggins” whose take on the other cast members is a frequent delight.

Overall, though, this was –despite the freezing nature of the venue on a wintery Edinburgh night – an enjoyable production, which certainly deserves a longer run. 

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

Multiple Venues

Nests

★★★
Dundee Rep Theatre / Macrobert Arts Centre

The Yellow on the Broom

★★★
Underbelly, Bristo Square

Tom Neenan: It's Always Infinity

★★★★
Assembly George Square Studios

Police Cops in Space

★★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Rik Carranza: Still a Fan

★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Marmite

★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

“Has it started yet?”

“Yes.”

“Are you sure?”

“It’s a pause.”

“You can’t start with a PAUSE!”

There is something afoot at Muldoon Manor. Something strange in the air. Is it the sense of mystery, murder and a botched love affair that shrouds the Manor house, or Mrs Drudge’s questionable choice in perfume? Join critics Moon and Birdfoot for a front seat in what promises to be a show they were not quite expecting.