Edmonton Fringe Review: The Real Inspector Hound

The Real Inspector Hound is almost certainly going to be one of the most well-written plays of the Fringe this year. That's because the work isn't from some horny dyke from Toronto, or a guy who wrote a script on the back of a napkin while making out with a cute blonde girl: it's from legendary playwright Tom Stoppard, which is why it has its own Wikipedia page. This man did Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead for Christ's sake, and this play borrows a bit of its wit and style.

Two critics sit down to watch a classic murder mystery: both of them are B-level reviewers, one only there because the usual guy wasn't available and he's the mere stand-in, the other the regular reviewer but known for spending more time chasing skirt than writing copy (I can relate, many exciting adventures with girls on the grounds have been between my viewing of this play and the writing of this review). The stand in is the more boorish of the two, imbibing grossly overwrought and cliched motivations and themes from the smallest of aspects of the work in question. The skirt-chaser is all about promoting sexy girls to be up and coming stars and maybe getting rewarded in return...

Soon though the actual play they are watching (which I found grossly enjoyable on its own, more on that later) is underway: an escaped madman is on the loose in Essex, and even though Muldoon Manor has working telephones apparently nobody in a position of authority figured it would be worth ringing them up to let them know that hey, there's a madman on the loose a few hundred yards from yours the only house. Ah well, I'm sure they'll just randomly turn the radio on at times perfectly corresponding with the police reports.

A mysterious stranger named Simon meeting the description of the madman sneaks into the house: he meets the maid, breaks up with the beautiful Felicity, and falls for the Lady of the Manor, still aching from her husband's disappearance and presumed death years ago. The lady's crippled brother-in-law, recently visiting from Canada (hence the brutal Scottish accent...) shows up and the four of them (minus, of course, the help) play a game of cards, entertain the visiting Inspector Hound, discover the dead body that we'd noticed when we came in, and try to figure out who murdered Simon who has suddenly been shot just as he announces that he knows the dead man's identity. The play goes black for intermission.

While the actors are taking a break, the phone on the stage starts ringing and distracts the critics from being able to write their copy: it's womanizer's wife on the line! As he tries to calm his wife down after she read about another of his dates (with the actress playing Felicity), the play resumes from about 1/3 of the way in, with the womanizer being thrown into the Simon role! He too loved and wooed Felicity but was more enamoured with the actress playing the Lady Cynthia, and though his dialogue changes throughout, much of the other character's dialog doesn't. There is, by the way, great physical comedy in a joke here: the wheelchaired Major who bowled over the first Simon bowls over the second Simon specifically using the critic's knowledge of the earlier play against him.

Suddenly the other critic gets himself thrust into the play when it is discovered that the original dead body is the usual reviewer: our stand-in now leaps to the stage to find out why his own colleague is laying on the floor. Further complicating matters is the fact that our reviewer had been openly talking about killing his rival: not unlike all the characters in the original play threatening to kill Simon (who is now being played by the womanizer, of course, and oh yeah he's shot dead quite obviously, it was in the script the first time). The reviewer takes the role of Inspector Hound (as the original Inspector Hound and the original Simon take the reviewers lounge and start writing their reviews of the play they were just in, trying and failing to solve the murder mystery before finally being shot and killed by the REAL INSPECTOR HOUND, who was under cover posing as a Canadian Major in a wheelchair. Oh, and he also happened to be Lady Cynthia's long-lost husband whose amnesia that plagued him since his disappearance magically was cured.

Oh, and one last insult: in the same way that we had a A-list reviewer (Higgs) that was killed, and the stand-in who we just watched get shot, the stand-in recognizes the man now through the disguise: it's his stand-in, who has just somehow engineered the death of his two chief rivals!

This was a very entertaining play with lots of energy: the cast really sold us on their roles: the actress playing Cynthia deliciously chewed up her lines like a ravenous carnivore. It called for her sexuality to completely overwhelm anybody interested in the younger and prettier Felicity (which the casting also nailed), and she rose to it beautifully. The actor playing the stand-in did fairly well, even though the accent gave him trouble. The actors playing the original Simon and Inspector Hound were solid but nothing exciting and admirable (Felicity, as well, though she was prancing around in a tight white tennis outfit that forgives all other faults), and the actor playing the womanizer was a little too subdued. The mad props have to go to the scene-stealing Major/Inspector/Husband/Reviewer, particularly when he was talking "Canadian proverbs" in a Scottish that would make the guy from those old Canadian Tire commercials mutter it was probably too over-the-top. Finally, the fact that the dead body on the floor wasn't a dummy but actually an actor who never had a single line or even stood up, and his job was to lay on the floor while we were all getting to our seats and then during the actual play without moving a muscle. Fooled me, actually. Well done.

Final word: Unless you can't possibly handle screwball comedy, you'll love attending this play.

(for more reviews of the 2014 Edmonton Fringe, click here)