An experience and three-fourths
Watching ‘The Real Inspector Hound' come alive on stage at The Hindu MetroPlus Theatre Fest 2011 was far better than studying it as a text in class. The concept of the audience merging with the play was fantastically represented, although the “play” separated itself beautifully from the “audience”, with its ingenious use of melodrama. With the acting impeccable, the props and settings minimalistic and precise, the sounds and costumes well-researched and the pacing perfect, the play was an experience and three-fourths. One of the most interesting moments during the play, as it goes in Literature — a la Macbeth and the knock on the door — was the phone call that Moon answers on “stage”, only to walk back and tell Birdboot that it was for him.
Rachel Pamela Joseph
Anna Nagar West
A play within a play, a lot of people would have to watch it again to understand it completely. Even as the show got over and I was leaving the hall, I saw a young lady explain the whole thing to an elderly lady who I presume to be her mother. The mother nodded as if to indicate she completely understood the gig but her facial expression begged to differ. This comic spoof of the whodunits with the cliched plot had aspects of farce and the absurd in it, where two theatre critics, ready to review the latest whodunit are literally drawn into it and have a role to play in the climax where the murderer is finally revealed. It is when one of the critics (Birdboot) finally picks up the onstage phone that the audience-stage barrier is crossed. The play's aim is to entertain which it does with several moments of satire, and the credit goes to the cast for its flawless execution. Tom Stoppard would have been proud!
Tom Stoppard's foray into the world of "formula murder" reveals a finely-tuned humour, a few bizarre twists and an underlying commentary on that strangest of breeds — the critic.
Set in a conveniently isolated English mansion, a cookie cutter set of characters rises to the occasion: murder. But that's not all. Also onstage, are two critics, ostensibly reviewing the play. Thus the audience is drawn into the dynamic between theatre and critique: one needs the other.
As "murder most foul" is being led up to by the cast, the two critics ponder their lives, discussing one's moral lapses and the other's apparent lack of identity, occasionally spouting long-winded critique into voice recorders.
Where is the intersect between critique and performance? Tom Stoppard uses his setup to lead us to the murderer and, at the same time, lets us know exactly what he thinks of critics.
“The Real Inspector Hound” begins with two theatre critics, Moon and Birdboot watching what they presume is a whodunit. A dead body is found, the radio announces a madman is on the loose, and soon Inspector Hound shows up at the scene of the crime. But is he the real Inspector Hound? Mist rolls off the marshes, telephone lines are cut and the critics' worlds converge with the twists of the murder mystery's plot. As the lines between the real and the imagined, between fate and free will, become blurred, suddenly nothing is quite what it seems.
The play while probing the idea of reality — questioning what is in effect real — exposes the blurry boundaries between the audience and the stage.
The play has its poignant moments — when Moon talks of those from the world of periphery, the fill-ins, second-strings, and substitutes in relation to their "betters", it does pull at our heart strings. And how could one forget the wonderfully inert portrayal of Higgs, the dead body that never budged an inch, and remained half-sprawled throughout the play, making one wonder whether it was real!
One to watch out for
‘The Real Inspector Hound' shows how a theatre group evolves with every play it performs. With an ensemble cast and a spectacular background score, the play surely works at all levels, from being a mystery to being a parody and having the audience in splits every few minutes. The concept of a play within a play is made to seem so simple with every actor sinking into his character with panache. An excellent improvement from its previous play ‘The Skeleton Woman, Quaff Theatre is one to watch out for.
I was nervous and thrilled all at once to watch ‘The Real Inspector Hound.' One cannot categorise it easily as it falls under several genres. Nayantara Kotian and Prashanth Prakash have done a perfect job of the direction.
‘The Real Inspector Hound' has a fabulous script that was backed by some terrific acting. The fact that it was a play within a play was interesting with the stage creating a mirror image of the audience and their reactions to the play. The absurdist play parodies the pomposity of critics as well as the clichés of whodunits. The play is entertaining with a fourth wall being created between the characters on stage and broken down, dragging the critics into the play. What should have been a fairly straightforward (boring?) cliché turned into an incredible destruction of exactly that.
Dhiya Susan Kuriakose
Anna Nagar East
Interesting and humorous
A well-choreographed play, the initial conversations of Birdboot and Moon had my attention till Moon entered the play within the play. The British line to the parody was the icing on the cake. The film "America's Sweethearts" might have been inspired by this one.
While Simon Gascoigne let us down by being artificial, Felicity glimmered like a doll. Birdboot was full of energy. Albert really concealed his identity well at every stage and came out as the hero of the show.
The most interesting and humorous part was the conversation during the game of cards. The backdrop and lighting made Maldoon Manor look suitably eerie.
‘Play within a play' assumed a new meaning with ‘The Real Inspector Hound'. The audience was in splits for most part, with humour in several forms: right from the dramatic overtures of the actors and the ‘propah' accents to the obsessive ranting among the 'critics'. We could never anticipate what was going to happen, and we were almost not allowed to think — either the critics were voicing our thoughts, or we were laughing so hard we just couldn't! The casting was brilliant and the actors were in tune with their roles. Special mention of the women — Kalki was outstanding as Cynthia, seductive yet claiming to be devoted to her long-lost husband, Prerna had the audience charmed as the bubbly Felicity, and Ratnabali perfectly portrayed the anxious, scampering maid. All in all: brilliant performances, great entertainment, and a superb script that left us wanting more.
‘The Real Inspector Hound' was a 'whodunit' plot with a difference. The play structure had a lot of things going for it, a play within a play blurring reality and stage, a dig at theatre critics and a stereotypical ‘whodunit' plot. However, the output aroused mixed feelings. There was a disconnected sense of reality, as the play itself was written in the 60s catering to the theatre audience of that time. Also, a satire runs the risk of falling flat if you are not discerning (not sure, how many got the climax twist). On a good note, Quaff Theatre kept the audience engaged. Special mention must be made of Prashant Prakash (Moon) and Suhaas Ahuja (Birdboot).
Agatha Christie would have smiled at this farcical play, echoing so many of her trademarks... a deserted manor amidst lonely moors, absurdly vacuous, clichéd characters, a madman on the loose, a cripple in a wheelchair and an undiscovered dead body. Two theatre critics, Moon and Birdboot, review the latest whodunit that they are watching, often talking at cross purposes as they get involved in the actual performance, turning it into a play within a play. The action is punctuated with eerie music, a nervous housemaid who spills the beans, mutual suspicion and frothy conversation. The double entendre flows unceasingly, inconsequentially, as Inspector Hound strides in, Poirot-style, and resolves to solve the mystery of the dead man with dramatic flourishes that amuse. Finally, the critics change places with the actors and bodies are strewn around, till the final denouement, which leaves the audience totally confused.
Not a dull moment
Tom Stoppard's ‘The Real Inspector Hound' by Quaff Theatre could well be called a theatre-lover's play. A play within a play, it had the right mix of mystery and comedy with no flaws in acting. The audience were enthralled for the entire duration, each one trying to unravel the puzzle. The lighting and background score were excellent, adding to the sinister mood.
Lampooning traditional English murder mystery plays (read, ‘The Mousetrap'), reality and events blend on stage, inducing bewilderment and surprises. Tom Stoppard flays theatre critics and murder mystery plays alike in a play within a play set-up, similar to his famous play ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead'. Flawlessly executed, the play stood out for its commendable light and sound design. Yellow journalism and critics who operate for favors are a pestilence in the world of the performing arts; Stoppard tears them to pieces, managing to castrate snobbish theatre at the same time.
Hilarious tangle of characters
Strangely supported by a fluttering curtain, dividing a mystery with its evaluation is the three-act “The Real Inspector Hound”. With brilliant character acting and some exquisite writing, the play overcomes its most dangerous challenge – to recreate a cliché. But is it a cliché? With a melodramatic first act, the play has a brilliant start. What's fascinating about it is that in the midst of the confusion, humour and mystery, the audience is constantly trying to categorise the play — it has a dramatic first act, a relatively serious second act and all hell breaking loose in the third. By the third act, the audience's frantic search for a dénouement ends, as it is evident — “The Real Inspector Hound” is a brilliant, simple, yet completely original, hilarious tangle of characters in a completely situational mystery-comedy.
Rising to the occasion
This is no mere whodunit, asking “Will the Real Inspector Hound stand up?”. This extremely satirical play goes down some very quirky paths, in keeping with the style of absurdist drama, not to talk of the ruthless, candid way in which Stoppard deals with theatre criticism, the frustrations of second-in-commands, favouritism, etc. Quaff Theatre stuck firmly to the original script, but with a minimalist set and flawless acting, including getting the accent right, they were able to transcend the boundaries of the written word and bring in their own tasteful, sincere interpretation of the world famous play. The actors skilfully managed the slightly exaggerated performance which the play innately required without hamming it at any point. In the end, the unexpected twist inevitably came, and it could be said that ‘The Real Inspector Hound' rose to the occasion, quite beautifully.
Whodunit with a twist
Like every other murder mystery, the play "The Real Inspector Hound" has all the classic ingredients — an isolated house, skeletons in the closets, hidden love affairs, a seemingly bumbling inspector and a mad man on the loose. What sets it apart is its sense of humour and surrealism. A play within a play…. as two self-obsessed theatre critics are drawn into the scene of crime, so is the audience drawn into the twisted tale. Simple sets help you keep an eye on the extremely well-played characters and the hilarious one-liners delivered with perfect timing. At no point do you feel that acting becomes overacting. As you chuckle at the witty dialogues, the play comes to an end. After watching it, you will look at every murder mystery in a new light .An enjoyable show, sprinkled with red herrings and a dash of humour.
Neat, but not a knock-out
Kalki Koechlin's performance effortlessly outclasses the rest, who are more about fake accents and impersonations. There's barely scope for directorial credit (or set design) either, except for the fact that the integrity of the play is not destroyed. But the actors did have good comic timing, consistency and stage presence. They kept the play alive. Neat, but it doesn't knock you out.
The Q&A session later had an elderly enthusiast ask the cast and crew why they didn't ‘Indianize' the play. I had an even more fundamental question — why perform it in the first place? ‘The Real Inspector Hound' was a British play written in 1962, while both Prashant as well as Kalki have ‘proven their ability' in writing their own draft (‘The Skeleton Woman'). It's an Indian Theatre Festival in 2011 that features foreign plays as well — where's the burning need to adapt? Just a thought that irked after an entertaining performance.
Keywords: The Hindu MetroPlus Theatre Fest 2011