Salient: Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Vol. 32, No. 9. 1969.
The Portable Nibble Nook
The Portable Nibble Nook
Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound is a very funny play and is being presented by a particularly strong cast at Downstage at the moment. There is a play within a play; it is a conventional murder mystery, and is being watched by Moon, a stand-in intellectual critic, and Birdboot, a lecherous reviewer (perhaps for the Daily Mirror).
These two, sharing the auditorium with us, talk all through the thriller, and we come to see their desires rising in the play itself and affecting its course. The satire, of the kind of murder play that Repertory presents, and the kind of review that Salient presents, is highly intelligent, but not, I think, handled intelligently the whole time.
The actors in the "play" have a very easy time. They are mostly good actors, but sadly, there is little challenge for them in such deliberately cardboard roles. Only Pat Evison seemed able to make her part more than a pale shadow of a very stock character. Its appropriate that the onstage "actors" should be consciously striking attitudes, but sometimes, as in the exaggerated embraces Ken Blackburn has to go through with Raeburn Hirsch, the action becomes too corny. And it's not enough to say that it's meant to be corny; that doesn't excuse sloppiness. That bit of business is unsubtle and out of place.
The real people, Moon and Birdboot have a hard job. They are themselves caricatures; some of their lines are tired Beckett-Pinter imitation dialogue, some are word play of varying quality and some are very effective extended satire on slick reviewing; yet later in the play they must become human so that we are sympathetic when the play becomes Deep. Peter Gwynne and Michael Woolf are accomplished comic performers, and I was very impressed by some of Gwynne's timing. And I did come to believe in them as human eventually.
And yet I felt uncertain as to whether the play was intended to be basically serious or not. If it was, should we not have felt more involved with the critics than with the mock-play? A friend, with me, said she began to feel annoyed at the interruptions of the two men at the side, more interested in the "play" itself.
And if the whole thing was being tackled lightly, and for the laughs? I'm strongly inclined to approve. I don't think the play is Serious or Meaningful Deep Down.
It is a very amusing play and very worth seeing, for an intellectual wit. When you go take money for an ice cream. Downstage now has a portable nibble nook in the person of the lovely Ginette McDonald ("the Greatest Hecuba since Sybil Thorndike back in 1932", they say).