The Real Inspector Hound
It is not easy to find positives in our current straightened times, but treats like this star-studded Zoom event could never have occurred without the world closing down.
Back in normal times, there was no way that the team from Lockdown Theatre could have commissioned a top director like Jonathan Church to work with a literary cast on this 70-minute presentation of a relatively unknown metatheatrical masterpiece.
Having produced three pieces already, the company has largely got the hang of delivering live productions via Zoom, although inevitably there are the odd jumped cues, not to mention a hilarious moment when one actor most inappropriately delivered another’s line, much to delight of the stage and screen legend’s colleagues. However, in this spoof on an Agatha Christie-style whodunnit, the odd live gaffe adds to the experience rather than detracting from it.
Although it is not performed often, many readers are likely to be familiar with The Real Inspector Hound, in which a country house murder takes place at Muldoon Manor as fog closes down on the surrounding Essex marshes. Accompanied by Jennifer Saunders playing the archetypal dippy maid, a quartet of guests become prime suspects following the long-delayed discovery of a corpse.
As one would expect in this kind of play, suspicion works its way around the room to encompass every one of Samantha Bond as hostess Lady Cynthia, Sanjeev Bhaskar playing her brother-in-law Magnus and a younger couple of Emilia Clarke and Freddie Fox respectively taking the roles of Felicity and Simon. Resolution promises to arrive in the form of Gary Wilmot’s Inspector Hound, without necessarily exciting those in the audience.
However, what might otherwise have been a rather dull, run-of-the-mill example of a play from a bland, outdated genre is transformed by events that are far more entertaining thanks to the imagination and ingenuity of Tom Stoppard. With the assistance of two characters who have been present from long before the curtain rose on the play within a play, he turns the evening into a piece of delightful post-modern metatheatre.
The duo in question are a pair of gently obsessive theatre critics who are scarily representative of their type. Derek Jacobi plays veteran Birdboot, happily married for a lifetime but recently in thrall to a young ingenue, while Simon Callow’s Moon is that sad figure, a deputy who has long dream of taking over from a number one whose longevity is beginning to suggest immortality.
Their apparently passive roles are changed into something more significant, making for a satisfying dénouement that will have left viewers with plenty to think about in every revival since the play was first performed in 1968. An excellent company intent on enjoying themselves as much as entertaining the public is completed by suave Robert Lindsay acting as Narrator.
This is the kind of play that has worked well on radio, which makes it a perfect choice for this medium. Not only is it great fun but the script also benefits from Tom Stoppard’s legendary rich use of language and delight in sending up a minor art form that is often taken too seriously and therefore fully deserves to be lampooned.
In addition to its artistic merits, this production has been developed to support a very worthy cause, the Royal Theatrical Fund (chairman Robert Lindsay) which provides support for those who have worked in the entertainment industry and must, in the current period when most theatre folk are unemployed, be in greater need of financial and spiritual assistance than at any time in the past.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher