The Real Inspector Hound is a short, one-act play by Tom Stoppard. The plot follows two theatre critics named Moon and Birdboot who are watching a ludicrous setup of a country house murder mystery, in the style of a whodunit. By chance, they become involved in the action causing a series of events that parallel the play they are watching.
The play was written between 1961 and 1962, drawing on Stoppard's experiences as a Bristol theatre critic. It was initially named The Stand-ins and later, The Critics. It is a parody of the stereotypical parlor mystery in the style of Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, as well as of the critics watching the play, with their personal desires and obsessions interwoven into their bombastic and pompous reviews. The title is a direct reference to the ending of The Mousetrap, a play well known for guarding the secrecy of its twist ending, although the producers of Agatha Christie's play could not publicly object without drawing even more attention to the fact.
The Real Inspector Hound, much like Stoppard's earlier play Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, examines the ideas of fate and free will, as well as exploring the themes of the 'play within a play'.
Stoppard's play is an example of absurdism as well as farce, parody, and satire.Setting: Place and time
While the story is set in a theatre, the play within the play is set in Muldoon Manor, a lavish manor surrounded by "desolate marshes" and "treacherous swamps" and paradoxically also located near a cliff. It is a direct parody of Agatha Christie’s "closed" settings in which no one can enter or leave, so the characters know that the murderer must be one of them.
The manor itself is described as having French windows and a large settee. The play is set, as spoken by Mrs Drudge, in the "drawing room of Lady Muldoon’s country residence one morning in early spring."Characters
Moon – a second-string theatre critic, called to the production to review it in the absence of Higgs, another critic. Moon's jealousy of Higgs' superior reputation seems to make him question his own purpose, with Moon's ultimate thoughts being of Higgs' death.
Birdboot – a theatre critic and a womaniser, who catapults young actresses to stardom by delivering dazzling reviews in return, we assume, for sexual favours. While married to Myrtle, he is having an affair with the actress who plays Felicity in the play within the play.
Higgs – the senior critic, Moon is his stand-in.
Puckeridge – the third-string theatre critic, or Moon's stand-in. In early versions of the play, this character was called "McCafferty".
Mrs Drudge – The maid, or char, of Muldoon Manor. One of Stoppard's primary vehicles for emphasising the satirical character of the story. Her cockney accent adds to the humour of Stoppard's play.
Simon Gascoyne – New to the neighbourhood, Simon has had affairs with both Felicity and Cynthia. He takes an instant dislike to Magnus, as they are both in love with Cynthia. Later in the play, Birdboot assumes the role of Simon Gascoyne, and vice versa.
Felicity Cunningham – A beautiful, innocent, young friend of Cynthia's who has had an affair with Simon and Birdboot. She is seemingly sweet and charming, but soon seeks ruthless revenge.
Cynthia Muldoon – Apparent widow of Lord Albert Muldoon who disappeared ten years ago. She claims to be very upset about her husband's disappearance, but the audience is led to think otherwise. Sophisticated and beautiful. She has had an affair with Simon.
Major Magnus Muldoon – Lord Albert Muldoon's crippled half-brother who just arrived from Canada. Has a desire for his late brother's widow, Cynthia. Takes an instant dislike to Simon, as they are both in love with Cynthia.
Inspector Hound – Appears from outside the house in the middle of the play to investigate an alleged phone call. Moon assumes this role near the end of the play, and vice versa.Detailed summary
The Real Inspector Hound opens with two theatre critics, Moon and Birdboot. Since Moon's superior, Higgs, is unavailable, Moon is called upon to review the production. The other critic, Birdboot, seems to have an interest in the young actress playing Felicity Cunningham. Birdboot states that he is a "respectable married man", yet Moon's comments direct the audience to doubt this statement.
The play within the play is set in "Lady Muldoon's country residence one morning in early spring" and opens with a body lying on an otherwise empty stage. The help, Mrs. Drudge, gravitates to the radio, oblivious to the corpse, and turns it on just in time for an overly expository police message explaining that police are searching for an escaped madman in the swamps surrounding the manor. Simon, a mysterious young man new in the neighbourhood enters the house, and it is revealed that he has dumped Felicity Cunningham for her friend Cynthia Muldoon, lady of the house. In the audience, Birdboot has mentally done the same. Major Magnus Muldoon, Cynthia's brother-in-law, is also in love with Cynthia. Eventually Inspector Hound from the police force arrives on the scene, apparently searching for the madman, and the company finally notices the body. The company splits up to look for a man of suspicion, when Simon is left alone on stage with the body, he bends over it and seems to recognise the victim, at which point he is shot by an unknown assailant.
During the play the two theatre critics discuss things they may write about this typical whodunit, but they are often sidetracked by their soliloquies, Moon's concerning his professional jealousy of Higgs and Birdboot's concerning his newly found "love", the actress playing Cynthia. As they talk, the telephone on stage begins to ring incessantly until Moon cannot stand it any more. He walks up on stage to answer it only to discover that Birdboot's wife, Myrtle, is on the line. Birdboot speaks to her and as he hangs up, the play suddenly starts again and he gets trapped in it, mistaken for Simon, leading to his inevitable demise as he executes the role to its end, just after recognising the dead body onstage as Higgs, the first string critic who was unavailable that night. Moon ascends the stage to unravel Birdboot's death, taking on the role of Inspector Hound. Major Magnus accuses Moon of being the madman, since he is not the real Inspector Hound, and he tries to run but Magnus shoots him. As Moon lies dying on the floor, Magnus reveals himself to not only be the real Inspector Hound but also Cynthia's lost husband, Albert, who had disappeared ten years earlier. Moon, however, also recognises him as third-string critic Puckeridge, who will now become the first-string as both Higgs and Moon are out of the way.Premiere
The first performance of The Real Inspector Hound took place at the Criterion Theatre in London on 17 June 1968 with the cast as follows:
- Moon – Richard Briers
- Birdboot – Ronnie Barker
- Mrs. Drudge – Josephine Tewson
- Simon Gascoyne – Robin Ellis
- Felicity Cunningham – Patricia Shakesby
- Cynthia Muldoon – Caroline Blakiston
- Major Magnus Muldoon – Antony Webb
- Inspector Hound – Hugh Walters
The play was directed by Robert Chetwyn, while the design was completed by Hutchinson Stott.Notes
- ^ Hodgson, Terry (2001). The plays of Tom Stoppard: for stage, radio, TV and film. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 1-84046-241-8.
- ^ Jenkins, Anthony (1989). The theatre of Tom Stoppard. Cambridge University Press.
- Booth, Alison, Hunter, J P., and Mays, Kelly J, eds. The Real Inspector Hound. By Tom Stoppard. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2006.