The Real Inspector Hound & 15 Minute Hamlet
Someone has been terribly clever. That’s what you’ll think moments after the show begins. The Real Inspector Hound, a farce written by Tom Stoppard and directed by Steve Hill, asserts that fiction is make believe and anything goes. There’s a double-meaning to most parts, like a drawing which is both a representation of a real thing as well as a pattern on the page.
Kudos to Costume Designer Maria Graham, Lighting Designer Steve Hill, Set Designer Rob Bradshaw, Sound Designer Joseph Ponder and Wig Designer Robert Love. The show plays at the Masquers until April 28, 2012. (Photos by Jerry Telfer).
Over time, theâtre reviews help people—patrons or actors—in different ways, but here we’re treated to a poignant understanding of what a review means for the reviewer.
The play opens to a stage set prior to opening curtain disclosing two eccentric reviewers who plunk down in the first row. They’ve been wondrously fitted out with hairstyles and costumes. Moon (George W. Adams, Jr., photo left, left) is standing in for the senior critic, Higgs. Moon is a philosopher with an existential view of the importance of his views while Birdboot (Mark Shepard, photo left, right) is a happily married man who might just be a dirty dog enraptured with his own influence. The dialogue is alliterative and amusing.
Most comic is how completely each reviewer’s thoughts are isolated from the play; in fact, they write much of their reviews long before the play begins. Eventually, the old fools are drawn from their observational perch into the action. Ultimately, each suffers a fate appropriate for a reviewer.
Mrs. Drudge (Jean Rose) is a maid who makes us feel that, should we need to join this society, we’d druther not become members of the servile classes. Mrs. Drudge dearly lives up to her name and we warm to her straight-faced act. She develops side rôles as a narrator and accessory after the fact. Much later she develops most telling characteristics. Peversely, she is the only sane voice in the ensemble.
A radio programme is interrupted by a BBC announcer (Brian Jones) with terrifying updates of a criminal at large.
Simon Gascoyne (Eric Sadler) appears onstage surrounded by sinister mystery. His dark eyes glitter and he smiles slyly. We don’t trust this handsome lothario and it’s easy to see why we suspect him of deception. We are elegantly transported to the days when fondling cigarettes was common. We watch Simon prepare his surroundings for seduction of his target victim. Et voilà!
Cynthia Muldoon (Michelle Pond) is the beautifully dressed, lady of the manor who adores her man passionately, within the constraints of dignity. Or perhaps only when others are looking. She toys with temptation. Her gentility may be a veneer for ruthless determination.
Felicity Cunningham (Kirstin Haag) is the play’s young lovely who excellently transports us to a time early in the last century when society women were glamorous and droll. She’s a pert, capable young miss playing at being empty-headed. Deliciously, she turns out to have a temper.
Both Lady Cynthia and Felicity are of a time when women did not speak what they were thinking. Instead whole conversations are told with the eyes. Magnificent!
Major Magnus Muldoon (Robert Love) is the aged, embittered brother of the missing-in-action Lord Albert. He’s hilariously mean-spirited and grumpy. Mobility is an issue for the Major and we are entranced by his adroit use of an antique wheelchair; we appreciate how much time was spent rehearsing this part. In time we see how possessive and commanding the Major can be.
The fabulously dressed Inspector Hound (Norman Macleod) makes a dramatic entrance, having just come from searching nearby marshes for the escaped criminal. The Inspector is a complex character; we’re never quite sure if he’s a bumbling fool or a perspicacious boffin. He’s a charming old penny buffed into brightness. Using infallible logic, the inspector soon unmasks the criminal. Or does he?
As the story unfolds, the kaleidoscope wheel slips and what was murky now becomes sharper; other meanings mutate. There are bodies galore and at least one dying scene worthy of joining a collection of Great Dying Scenes.
The Fifteen Minute Hamlet stars foppishly dressed Robert Taylor (photo left, left) as Hamlet and includes all of the actors from the earlier play. The doomed Hamlet is devious and behaves crazily.
The abridged story lasts about fifteen minutes, so things happen rather quickly. For those for whom it’s been a long time since reading the play, the performance acts as a bit of a refresher course. Small touches make the play memorable, like the way the passage of days is illustrated.
The cast of The Real Inspector Hound and The Fifteen Minute Hamlet constantly move across the stage keeping the audience’s eyes roaming. There is swordplay, gunplay, glorious costumes and wigs.
This is an enthralling performance with an imaginative storyline requiring careful attention and quite a few chuckles. There were many cheers at the sold out performance on opening night.
Get seats while you can.
How did you feel about the play? Comments are welcome.
The Real Inspector Hound and The Fifteen Minute Hamlet was performed March 23 - April 28, 2012, at the Masquers Theatre in Point Richmond, California. This review was also published in This Point In Time (TPIT), Vol. XXX-5, April/May 2012, a publication of the Point Richmond History Association.