The Real Inspector Hound

This weekend's play was The Real Inspector Hound. It is both humourously entertaining and deviously twisty, as you would expect from a Tom Stoppard play. It starts with an unpopulated stage set, looking like a standard murder mystery at an English manor house, complete with stock props (telephone, radio, manor drawing room with old beat up theatrical furniture) and a corpse on the stage behind the sofa. However, there are also theatre wall fragments, a coat of arms, some extra seats and other hints that this isn't a straightforward play. The guy in the out-of-date suit, sitting in the extra seats before the play starts is revealed to be a newspaper critic when his rival reviewer runs down through the audience and sits beside him, apologising for being late and wondering where Mr. Higgs is.

The acting was fine, getting across the different personalities quite well with good accents and mannerisms. There's the easily insulted blustery British buffoon critic who cheats on his wife and is more interested in attractive actresses than reviewing, the wimpy critic who's upset at always being a stand-in and goes off on hilarious metaphysical reviewing rants, when not being beaten down by the blustery one's intimidation. The "actors" also overdo it nicely: the flirty young girl sighing and gesturing dramatically with her long arms, the worn down house maid who's used almost like a highlighting marker to emphasize important points in the play, a gruff mustachioed military veteran in a wheel chair, the elegant hostess mourning her decade vanished husband, and the dead still corpse (nicely played by Justin Mazzotta - lying really still and unnoticed for most of the play). By the way, using chocolates to calm down the blustery critic is a British custom; they eat chocolate while watching plays much like the way North Americans eat popcorn while watching movies.

Besides making fun of drama critics' overblown language and their blasé numbness after seeing too many plays, it spoofs stereotypical murder mysteries. In a humourously silly way there's a spotlight on the shocked housekeeper whenever she overhears someone saying they'd kill, the fog machine starts up whenever someone mentions how isolated the place is, and there's all that delightful hammy overacting by the "actors".

Stoppard's word play is in fine form. At the obvious level there is the banter around a card game in the play where talking about cheating is actually talking about cheating on a woman, and just about everything else said at the table could be about cards or about women. In the third act the double meanings get recursively twisted in surprising ways. One is the pretty amazing reuse of the exact same words heard earlier but spoken by different characters to give a an extremely accurate second meaning. Another game is the changing identity of Inspector Hound. Each interpretation is all in the audience's head, flowing from the motivations they are assuming at the moment. Even simple assumptions are twisting in the wind - like the loud howling off stage when inspector Hound arrives - it turns out to be his personal fog horn.

If you enjoy laughing or admire elaborate constructions of events and motive that shift and turn on their head as the play unwinds, then you'll enjoy this one. It is showing at the Arts Court (behind the Rideau Center) until February 26th, put on by The Third Wall Theatre Company (sort of between the Fringe Festival and the GCTC in theatrical pedigree and pricing).

- Alex

Copyright © 2005 by Alexander G. M. Smith.