What: The Real Inspector Hound
Where: Theatre HB
When: September 16 to September 26, 7.30pm Tickets at iTicket.co.nz
Reviewed by: Keith Russell
Deep within the Playhouse Theatre, ensconced within their Covid-19 bubble Theatre HB's board came up with an inspired idea.
"How about we put on a murder mystery that satisfies every theatre's dream, by killing off a few obnoxious theatre critics?"
Director Rob Hickey immediately started cleaning his guns and said "I know just the play". English playwright Tom Stoppard's (a former critic himself) 1968, 80-minute, one act whodunit The Real Inspector Hound".
The play-within-a-play style blends characters that interact a plot containing parody, satire and absurdism all within an Agatha Christie style "closed" setting.
Set in a lonely manor on the moors on a foggy night and not surprisingly the radio informs us a madman is on the loose, with some lively overviews by two watching theatre critics.
Presenting this absurdly mannered play is a talented ensemble, immersed in the joy of performing Stoppard's linguistic antics on stage.
Sarah Graham anchors the shenanigans as the deadpan housekeeper/commentator Mrs Drudge. Her excellent comic timing was assisted by clever facial expressions of Laura Jeffares playing counterpoint as the brittle Cynthia.
Not to be outdone is Simon Law as Major Magnus who was suitably smarmy. Rachel Griffiths as Felicity displayed some feisty repartee especially with her flirtations with Simon played with womanising charm by Jack Garvey.
Chris Atkinson is in his element as the energetic Inspector Hound who looked suitably eccentric in his jungle explorer costume.
The play's strength comes from the fun Stoppard has sending up not only the murder mystery genre, but also the literary ambitions of theatre critics.
John Graham is suitably pompous as the second string writer Moon, but giving his all was Rob Dallas as the over confident chocolate-eating Birdboot, who not only fancies himself but also many of the female actors that cross his notepad.
Lighting is subtle but effective, the sound engineers kept to their marks, and Rob Hickey is to be congratulated on a simple but effective drawing room set. Voice projection was a minor quibble but it was pleasing to see no attempt was made to spoil the story with complicated accents.
Stoppard's observations on life no longer seem quite as original as when this play was first produced and in some places it just creaks, but good humour is timeless. You will enjoy watching this performance as much as I did. It is suitable for all audiences, except theatre critics who will learn that the written word can sometimes be answered by "murder most foul".