The Real Inspector Hound & After Magritte - Review

The pairing of these two comedies by Tom Stoppard fitted well together; both being examples of absurdist theatre.

After Magritte, the lesser of the two pieces, acted as an appetiser that introduced the audience to Stoppard's style. It demonstrated his clever use of wordplay – puns and all. Like Orton he has the knack of taking an ordinary incident, utilising stylised language and developing it into something bizarre.

In this play the verbal surrealism of the writing matched the visual surrealism found in Magritte's paintings as four people recount the same incident. It demonstrated to comic effect how differently people saw, interpreted and remembered the same event.

Andy Small and Claire Armstrong capably played the couple whose home was invaded by the police in the belief that it is used as a disorderly house. An easy assumption to make considering that Small is discovered wearing long rubber fishing waders, standing on chair looking about to carry out a sexually simulated hanging instead of merely being in a position to change a light bulb. His wife on the other hand has just been seen giving massage to someone on an ironing board – the someone turns out to be her mother-in-law who has fixation on the works of Magritte extends to her having taken up the tuba. Amanda Urwin-Mann has to be commended for her mastery of this difficult instrument but her performance as the mother seemed a little under par and it is hoped that it developed after the first night.

Darren Cockrill was sufficiently dim as PC Holmes under the command of Tessa Pointing's Inspector Foot - more of her anon.

The second play, cleverly constructed, was a glorious spoof on country house murder mysteries with the theatrical conceit of having two newspaper critics, Moon and Birdboot, watching, commenting and eventually becoming part of the play.

Moon, a second string reviewer, constantly moans about always covering for the leading critic, Higgs, and worries at great length as to whether his position is being undermined by Harrison, the third string. However Birdboot, with a penchant for pretty actresses, waxes lyrically whilst he fantasises over them. John Adam and Steve Mallen gave good contrasting performances one introverted and paranoid, the other ebullient and comic as tries to reassure that he is happily married and that his dalliances are for professional reasons.

The play that they are watching is a parody of the murder mystery genre that provides a comic gem of exaggerated acting, expertly delivered by a talented cast. Jen Bridges was the bright young thing and friend of Mai Elphinstone's Lady Cynthia. For his second role of the evening Andy Small hammed up the air of mystery as the uninvited stranger whilst Brendan Moore was even more mysterious as the wheelchair bound, long lost cousin.

Each of the evening's two plays contained a performance that stole the show. In Magritte Tessa Pointing was superb as Inspector Foot of the Yard – all blustering and bullying ineptitude. The second play had Peta Taylor gloriously overacting as Mrs Drudge, the charlady. Their timing, body gestures and mugging resulted in two hilarious characterisations.

Barrie Jerram
19 May 2009