This week the UEA Drama Studios played host to Minotaur Theatre Company’s latest production, The Real Inspector Hound. Written by Tom Stoppard in 1961 he drew on his experiences as a Bristol theatre critic to produce a play that simultaneously parodies the role of the theatre critic, and the form of the murder-mystery ‘whodunit’ play.
The short one act play opened with theatre critics Moon (Molly Violet McGeachin) and Birdboot (Josh Husselbee) taking their seats amidst the real audience, in order to watch the murder mystery about to begin ‘on-stage’. Immediately the well-rehearsed chemistry of McGeachin and Husselbee was obvious. Husselbee’s accent, mannerisms and intonations were all spot on, as was his comic timing and rapport with the audience. He had the audience laughing before he had said his first line, and the strength of his performance only increased as the play progressed. McGeachin too was equally strong in her performance. Her frenetic tirades into the role of the understudy made for a hilarious comparison with Husselbee’s own critical technique, as they each vied for the best metaphor to describe the play within a play; it was easy to hear Stoppard’s own gripes with the role of the critic.
The loudest laughs were undoubtedly earned by George Ronayne, his role as Magnus, the wheelchair bound uncompromising Scotsman trod the perfect line between comedy and pure farce. Around the midway point of the play we experienced a slight technical cockup, meaning that Ronayne had to fill in with his voice for a pre-recorded radio broadcast that wouldn’t work properly. Whether or not this fault was deliberate I still don’t know. Either way it was one of the funniest moments of the play, and considering it happened in a play about theatre critics reviewing a play, who, with a typically Stoppardian touch, end up in the play themselves, it only added another dimension to the self-referential nature of the piece.
The other characters populating the whodunit side of the play were Mrs Drudge (Amber Muldoon), Simon (Sam Day), Felicity (Abi Stewart), Cynthia (Gemma Barnett), and Inspector Hound (Freddie Van der Velde. They all brought the right level of parody to their respective roles in a unison that ensured the audience knew that they were acting badly, rather than badly acting. They were all able to keep up with the fast pace and tempo of Stoppard’s script, and made sure that the action didn’t lag for a moment. The physicality of Day and Van der Velde was impressive and they bounced like rubber balls around the stage, matched in energy by the melodrama of Muldoon, Stewart and Barnett.
Overall it was a lot of fun to watch a production with such strong performances and little to no glaring weaknesses.