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THE REAL INSPECTOR HOUND

Dramatic criticism of the play by Tom Stoppard

In The Real Inspector Hound Stoppard makes fun of the critical jargon used by reviewers; when they make quasi-official pronouncements, they are pompous and silly. Of course the satire is especially effective when it is partly self-satire, coming from a former theater critic who knows these pretensions from the inside.

KENNETH J. RECKFORD, Aristophanes' Old-And-New Comedy

In the twentieth century Tom Stoppard has gone further than most in exploring the comic potential of theatre-within-theatre. The Real Inspector Hound starts out sanely enough with two theatre critics, Moon and Birdboot, watching and commenting upon a corny country-house mystery, the cliché-sodden whodunnit parodying its genre just as the critics' cliché-sodden commentary parodies its genre. Yet at an early stage the theatrical levels begin to blur, as Moon claims to have seen Birdboot out on the town with Felicity, one of the fictional females. Midway through--when nobody else is onstage--Birdboot ventures to answer the persistently ringing stage-phone only to find it is his real wife who is speaking (possibly suspecting his fictive flirtations). Once "onstage," he gets caught up in an embarrassing barney with Felicity that turns into an almost verbatim reproduction of the clichés from an earlier (fictive) confrontation scene between Felicity and Simon Gascoyne. Birdboot has in a sense "become" Simon, adopting his dramatic role. Not surprisingly Birdboot is soon to bite the metatheatrical dust, and Moon, rushing onstage to the body of his fellow critic, finds himself playing the part of Inspector Hound--but not the real one, for it is wheel-chaired Magnus, alias long-lost lover Albert, alias third-string stand-in theatre critic Puckeridge, who is the real Inspector Hound.

R.D.V. GLASGOW, Madness, Masks, and Laughter

It all fits together with a sort of demented clockwork precision.

JOHN RUSSELL TAYLOR, The Second Wave

Christie's Mousetrap is formulaic. Hound mocks the formula. The play starts with a stage empty of actors except for the corpse.... It is not a whodunit--it is about whodunits and also about the petty jealousies of the second strings, the understudies, the seconds in command and their desire to do away with those who block their way. They watch each other as we watch them.... The barriers between theatre and stage audience dissolve and the distinction between the real and the fictional disappears.

TERRY HODGSON, The Plays of Tom Stoppard

[The Real Inspector Hound is] ... the least satisfactory of all Stoppard's plays ... the theatrical whodunit tends to be transparently banal in the first place, so that to parody its emptiness simply restates the obvious ... all Stoppard's burlesque does is to underline the banalities in a schoolboy manner.

ANTHONY JENKINS, The Plays of Tom Stoppard

Tom Stoppard allowed us to enter into the experience of our many competing and contradictory selves in his play The Real Inspector Hound. In this detective drama, it is unclear throughout the play whether any one of the characters is really the person they are supposed to be or whether they are "in role" in their relationship with the other characters. Is the police inspector actually the dead body, is the stranger actually the lord of the house; does "I'll kill you if you ..." reflect a teasing friendship or deadly enmity? This even applies to the audience who might themselves be the players or be looking at a reflection of themselves. Because of the fluidity and changing perspective of the predominating theme of deception, it is difficult to decide what you are looking at because you are not able to say, "From where I am standing it looks like..." The playwright ensures that your standpoint and frame of reference are as untrustworthy as your outlook.

FIONA C. ROSS, Understanding Perversion in Clinical Practice

Tom Stoppard did quite a lot of damage to the critical fraternity, or at least its lower echelons, in The Real Inspector Hound. The public image of the critic is all too often that of the recluse, a slightly furtive figure scurrying away from first nights the moment the curtain comes down and preferably before the applause starts. Old scores are imagined to be paid off on battered typewriters. Critics are seen as Beckmessers or, put another way, just failed creators.

MELINDA CAMBER PORTER, Through Parisian Eyes

Stoppard's characters acquire metafictional status by virtue of play within play. In the case of The Real Inspector Hound, this "play" is formalized into a structural demand. The characters, who are made to function within two structural units, acquire one identity in the fram play--their "real" identities--and quite another in the inner play--their fictive identities. But the distinction between the identities, and, indeed, between the plays, remains less than absolute. As the characters move across the boundary that separates the outer play from the inner one, the line which separates their identities as critics and members of an audience from their identities as actors and participants in the "whodunit" play becomes increasingly fluid, as does the line which separates the reality of their world as audience and the fiction of the world of Muldoon Manor. In creating first a rigid structural line of demarcation and then violating that line through his protagonists' entrance into the inner play, Stoppard is able to ... suggest the nature of role playing and the power of illusion over reality.... If the mirror which reflected our reality is illusion, then perhaps reality is illusion after all.

JUNE SCHLUETER, Metafictional Characters in Modern Drama

Hound parodies reviewing as well as Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap and mocks the critic's game of identifying sources by having one of the reviewers cite nine of them, including Shakespeare, Pirandello, and farce and existential writers with whom Stoppard has been identified, such as Pinero, Beckett, Kafka and Sartre. St. Paul is thrown in for good measure with Dorothy L. Sayers (but not Agatha Christie) and the name Birkett, which goes nicely with Beckett, is an invitation to zealous scholars to chase his name in dictionaries of the theatre where he will not be found.

TERRY HODGSON, The Plays of Tom Stoppard

When the curtain rises in Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound, "the audience appear to be confronted by their own reflection in a huge mirror." The stage, decorated as the drawing room in an English manor, seems to be situated between rows of seats facing each other on opposite sides. Before the action begins on stage, one theater critic in the front row is joined by a second; a dialogue commences about a third critic and about the play, "a whodunnit," which we are told has already begun. Beginning a play with members of the audience discussing the play to be played is the same peculiar metadramatic gambit which Ludwig Tieck employed in Puss-in-Boots. Stoppard's play contains a spoof of Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap; Tieck parodies scenes from The Magic Flute. The ironic tensions of an Aristophanic parabasis or a Shakespearean play-within-a-play are complicated by Tieck and Stoppard, for the fictive spectators do not simply provide an alternate frame of reality, another level of dramatic illusion; instead of remaining discretely separated as spectators and commentators, they become entangled in the other action on stage.

FREDERICK BURWICK, Illusion and the Drama

The one thing that The Real Inspector Hound isn't about, as far as I'm concerned, is theatre critics. I originally conceived a play, exactly the same play, with simply two members of an audience getting involved in the play-within-the-play. But when it comes to actually writing something down which has integral entertainment value, if you like, it very quickly turned out that it would be a lot easier to do it with critics, because you've got something known and defined to parody. So it was never a play about drama critics. If one wishes to say that it is a play about something more than that, then it's about the dangers of wish-fulfilment. But as soon as the word's out of my mouth, I think, shit, it's a play about these two guys, and they're going along to this play, and the whole thing is tragic and hilarious, and very, very carefully constructed.

TOM STOPPARD, Tom Stoppard in Conversation

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