The Real Inspector Hound/The Critic, Minerva Theatre, Chichester
Wednesday 14 July 2010
This pairing of one-act plays about the vicarious participation of critics in the theatre business was last seen on the vast Olivier stage 25 years ago; it works much better in the compact Minerva, though Jonathan Church and Sean Foley's joint production seems over-anxious to be funny.
One consequence of this is that Foley, for instance, who plays a wheelchair-bound major in Stoppard's country-house thriller spoof, and a poodle-wigged ninny, Sir Fretful Plagiary, in the Sheridan fracas, is sometimes registering a reaction before he's received the prompt for it.
But he does, at least, make a sly connection between the plays that has not been made before: "trim-buttocked" is a gloating epithet dispensed by the critics in The Real Inspector Hound; Foley can be so described when Sir Fretful's cloak slips beneath waist level in The Critic's patriotic pageant.
Mooning in Chichester: whatever next? Both plays satirise theatrical mannerisms of the day in a "play-within-a-play". Mr Puff's "catastrophe" is a fantasy staging of the Spanish Armada, with designer Ruari Murchison creating a mini-fleet of galleons sailing up the Thames, Britannia ruling the waves in a steel helmet and one poor critic, Derek Griffiths's supercilious Sneer, suspended on top of the world while the scenery collapses.
The critics are drawn into action more subtly in the Stoppard, Nicholas Le Prevost's smoothie-chops Birdboot picking up a telephone on the set ("I told you never to ring me at work") and Richard McCabe's chaotically untidy, second-string Moon, assuming a leading role soon afterwards.
Le Prevost doubles in the Sheridan as Dangle, reading news of an imminent coalition, and the last government's failures, before declaring an interest only in theatrical politics. McCabe's critic with an arthritic walk unbends magnificently as the irrepressible Puff, listing his varieties of "puff" like an embryonic, much wittier, Max Clifford.
The Stoppard spoof is ferociously well done by Joe Dixon, Sophie Bould and Hermione Gulliford, with Una Stubbs delightful in both plays, first as Mrs Drudge then as a bird-brained Mrs Dangle in Sheridan's satirical attack on a long-forgotten, ineffective foreign policy.
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