In Bright Young Thing’s production of Tom Stoppard’s comedic tour de force The Real Inspector Hound, two critics jump onstage into the play they’re reviewing — and I, a third critic — found myself equally enthralled.
Stoppard, one of the great English playwrights of his generation, cut his teeth on metatheatrical comedies like his 1968 one-act Hound, most notably his 1966 Edinburgh Fringe debut Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which catapulted him to international stardom.
Stoppard’s mature work, such as 1993’s Tony and Olivier Award-winning historical drama Arcadia, probes heady themes of humankind’s freedom, futility, and epistemic limits.
In The Real Inspector Hound, these themes are not probed, but are instead gently prodded, as two pompous, posturing London theatre critics reveal their personal predilections as they chat and orate their reviews while watching the titular play-within-a-play unfold in real time.
U of A BFA Acting and MFA Directing alumnus Ashley Wright’s stuffy and supercilious Birdboot pairs nicely with BFA Acting alumnus Mat Busby’s envious Moon. Within the play-within-a-play, Belinda Cornish and Louise Lambert match the former’s antics as whodunit caricatures Lady Cynthia Muldoon and Felicity Cunningham, respectively.
Garrett Ross, Andrew MacDonald Smith, and BFA Acting alumni Jenny McKillop and Troy O’Donnell round out this cast of Edmonton favourites, who clearly enjoy playing with each other onstage as they deliver Stoppard’s erudite writing and clever plot to an eager Fringe audience.
The production design makes full use of the capacious Varscona stage without crowding it with ornamental set pieces or adding unnecessary twists. Birdboot and Moon sit opposite the (actual) audience and watch the action of the play in front of them — upstage for them, downstage for us.
The audience chortled at every turn of the whodunit’s histrionics and the critics’ bombast, as the two worlds of the fiction collide into an existential soup. Who killed whom? Who is whom? And who, after all, is the real Inspector Hound? These questions ensnare the audience as the 60-minute double-play moves towards its characteristically cheeky conclusion.
Bright Young Things’ quality rendition of The Real Inspector Hound is a delightful production that brings Stoppard’s lofty metafiction down to the penny gallery.