The Bright Young Things’ production of The Real Inspector Hound is great, big fun.
I knew about the play, but somehow never saw it until Tuesday night. I didn’t know what to expect. That was for the best.
Thanks to years of reviewing shows, I still take notes at performances. I’m usually the only person in the theatre with an open notebook and pen at the ready, unless there is a reviewer in the audience. But I’ve never sat directly across from someone sitting upstage in a red plush theatre chair, very much like the red plush theatre chair I was sitting in, who was also taking notes. The only thing separating me from this doppelgänger was an intentionally exaggerated performance downstage of a preposterous murder mystery. Of course, the note-taker on stage was no mere doppelgänger: he was there as an actor who was part of a show in which he is watching a show, and I was there to watch the show of which he was a part.
The feeling of flipping between recognition and alienation turned out to be very appropriate. The Real Inspector Hound is an early (1961-62) one-act by playwright Tom Stoppard, who became recognized as a master of metanarrative work.
The play opens with the two critics (Stoppard once worked as a theatre critic) are a study in contrasts. One, played by Ashley Wright, becomes infatuated with the dramatic female characters and their sumptuous lives he finds excuses to send time with the actors who portray them, delighting in his power to help their careers.
The other, played by Mat Busby, over-philosophizes (he even wears heavy-rimmed glasses and a turtleneck). His writing reminded me of something that novelist Stephen Galloway once said in an interview, about fiction being a medium on which readers can exercise their imaginations. But I digress.
The play-within-the-play was performed with side-splitting gusto, with Garrett Ross’s thundering entrance a particular highlight. The murder mystery itself involves an escaped criminal and a love triangle between characters played by Belinda Cornish, Louise Lambert, and Andrew MacDonald-Smith. Jenny McKillop, and Troy O’Donnell fill out the credited on-stage cast.
As The Real Inspector Hound progressed, the critics stopped taking notes, and so did I. I was caught up by the play. They were caught up in it.