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Sluggish pace hampers The Real Inspector

PUBLISHED: 15:23 23 January 2008 | UPDATED: 11:29 01 July 2010

A CRITIC reviewing two critics reviewing a play is the sort of absurdist situation that playwright Tom Stoppard adores, writes Mark Campbell. His comic play The Real Inspector Hound was performed last week by Crayford s Geoffrey Whitworth Theatre and was

A CRITIC reviewing two critics reviewing a play is the sort of absurdist situation that playwright Tom Stoppard adores, writes Mark Campbell.

His comic play The Real Inspector Hound was performed last week by Crayford's Geoffrey Whitworth Theatre and was a fine demonstration of how to blend an achingly funny satire with an altogether darker existential fantasy.

The play was coherently, yet imaginatively, directed by John Turnbull.

His excellent cast had clearly worked very hard on getting the style just right and all appeared to be enjoying themselves enormously.

The two critics, with the unlikely names of Moon and Birdboot, were beautifully played by Mike Higginson and Michael Martin respectively.

Martin was an avuncular womaniser with a Frank Muir-style lisp, while Higginson specialised in melancholy asides on the nature of God, Art and his own fragile existence.

Seated at the rear of the stage (in front of a projected image of the real audience), we watch as they pass judgement on the sub-Agatha Christie whodunit played out before them.

Among the cast are an exposition-spouting housekeeper (Eileen Brookes), a dashing young man, (David Puckridge) a tennis-playing girl (Ellie Martin), a rich lord and lady (Michelle Scott and Roger Gollop) and the title character himself, the real (?) Inspector Hound (Colin Hill).

The actors' hackneyed delivery of Stoppard's deliberately clichéd script was excruciatingly funny.

But when, towards the end, Moon and Birdboot are inexorably caught up in the fictional drama, the humour slipped into a darker groove and the tone became distinctly more chilling.

Whether Stoppard thought the play a depiction of a critic's worst nightmare or a metaphor about art versus reality (or something else entirely), Hound was an exceptionally satisfying production on every level.

As a curtain-opener to the main event, the Whitworth had chosen to stage another Stoppard comedy, the distinctly less memorable After Magritte, directed by Ian Pring.

Silly rather than funny, this 30-minute playlet covered similar ground to the whodunit presented in their main feature.

But sluggish pacing prevented it from being anywhere near as effective as it could have been.

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