Tom Stoppard’s name is all over Oxford. There’s simply no escaping it. OUDS finished their rendition of the kooky whodunit spoof only last Saturday, and here we are again, watching The Real Inspector Hound come alive as part of a Cuppers performance – and by Trinity Freshers, no less. Add Exeter’s stab at the same murder mystery to the mix, a murder conveniently scheduled for Thursday, and we’ve got a positive shrine to the guy behind the Hound. And thankfully, Trinity paid him all the right respects.
It’s always hard cutting and pasting bits of an original play to cater for a 30 minute production, but this adaption was succinct as well as funny – no mean feat for the pressed for time script editor. Walking into the crammed, slightly stuffy studio space, my attention was instantly drawn to the disheveled mannequin on the floor – the corpse – it would seem, and the impetus for theatre critics Moon and Birdboot to begin their dialogue. Rimmed eyed, overinflated Moon was cast perfectly, and the actor succeeded in tickling out roars of laughter from his (albeit Trinity dominated) audience. The exchanges between Birdboot and Moon confidently anchored the play-within-a-play conceit, and we watched as an outright groaner of an Agatha Christie knockoff unfolded on the makeshift stage before us.
Because the murder mystery was terrible, worse than terrible if we’re judging by Agatha’s high standards. But that’s what makes Stoppard’s production so brilliant, and Trinity’s realization of the play the enjoyable experience it was. Set in the fog-cloaked environ of Muldoon Manor, the play-within-a-play got rolling into action when the housekeeper, Mrs Drudge, discovered of an escaped madman on the loose. And although the actress had a tendency to ‘speak’ the lines rather than perform in character, I found this didn’t matter, and if anything, added to the hilarity of a piece intended to be bad. That’s not to say all the actors suffered from delving in and out of character at regular intervals. Indeed, ‘Cynthia Muldoon’ was a notable performance, the actress propelling the piece forwards with her high energy and tittering ‘posh gal’ performance.
So the radio may have broken half way, and some of the cast may have been stronger actors than others, but this didn’t detract from the overall effectiveness of this brief play. The faulty radio, if anything, was flawlessly integrated into the script and ‘Simon Gascoyne’ revealed his superb ability to adapt to unforeseen circumstances, with his ‘I appear to have found a newspaper,’ line. It was an entertaining romp that made my Tuesday evening so much more the brighter, and is a play I want to see more of, despite Oxford’s already inundated Stoppard fan club.