“…utterly absurd and completely entertaining”
A buzz of excitement rippled through the café during the wait for the doors to open. Inside the auditorium the audience is greeted with the strains of period music and a spotlight trained on a man in an armchair with a notebook to hand, who would later be introduced to us as Moon, played by Ben Horner.
As can be expected of any of Tom Stoppard’s work, The Read Inspector Hound is a wordy script with many a tricky speech to deliver, which at times proved a challenge – but not one the actors were defeated by – and a journey for its audience that can be difficult to follow. Director Cameron Scott was brave to tackle this play but his addition of updated jokes including Real McCoys – the crisps – and a myriad of highly comical moments from his cast proved that he was more than capable of handling such a project.
This murder mystery play-within-a-play delved with ease into the absurdity of the human condition and the blurring of lines between what is real and what we desire to be real , drawing the audience in and gripping them from the very beginning with the fast pace and rapidly building hysteria.
The production team’s terrific set design included patio doors, a very large Persian rug and two tables, one holding the drinks, the other waiting for the drinkers. The elevated pair of armchairs, occupied by Moon and his most respectable reviewing counterpart Birdboot, brought to life by Finlay MacAfee, worked well to maintain the separation of reality and imagination – at first.
As a duo, MacAfee and Horner were most convincing; Moon’s nervous disposition and Birdboot’s self-righteous air coloured the play throughout and their back-and-forth monologues were highly entertaining.
Leyla Doany gave a great performance – her busybody Mrs Drudge’s facial expressions, dusty white hair and reactions to the goings on around her kept the stage alive with comic ridicule.
The suave Simon Gascoyne – a smooth delivery from Leopold Glover – and his scorned lovers had the audience in hysterics; both Lady Cynthia Muldoon and Felicity Cunningham proved they could hold their own against the stud. Liss Hansen and Heather Daniel’s respective characters certainly appeared to take some satisfaction in the slaps they delivered so soundly.
Capturing madness and mayhem in his enigmatic performance, Joseph Macaulay’s manic portrayal of Inspector Hound was impressive in its crazed delivery. The long-winded speeches and wrongful assumptions were delivered with a high energy and conviction of character. His deer-stalker, binoculars and wellington boots were comic props used to their fullest potential, much like their owner.
To add to the further absurdity, the casting of Megan Burt as Albert, who was masquerading as the crippled brother Magnus, brought comic timing and a most-amusing manoeuvring of Magnus’s wheelchair. Her adorned beard was a favourite in the costume department. The big reveal at the close of the play – that Albert is also the real ………….. – stays true to the whodunit nature of this bizarre adventure.
A special mention must also be given to Liam Rees who arguably had the most difficult part to play of all – the corpse. How he was able to lie still and play dead surrounded by the onslaught of commotion, without so much as a twitch and a chuckle, is beyond me.
Technically, this production was slick. Jack Simpson’s work on lighting and sound effects did enhance the action with the constant ringing of the telephone (with the cut cable!) and dramatic spotlights at every opportune moment.
As the story unravelled and reviewers Moon and Birdboot are sucked into the madness of the play, the action and pace built and built to a dizzying climax, ending in death and further confusion. Stoppard always keeps you guessing.
The production team – Cameron Scott, producer Tabitha James, stage manager Jonathan Barnett and tech manager Jack Simpson, evidently put a lot of energy into creating this show and their hard work most certainly paid off. All in all, as a reviewer reviewing a play of reviewers reviewing a play, I must admit this show was utterly absurd and completely entertaining.
Reviewer: Amy King (Seen 28 January)
Visit the Bedlam archive.