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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Critic and The Real Inspector Hound

If it goes on after half past ten it's self indulgent. — Moon
The Critic and The Real Inspector Hound
Richard McCabe as Puff, Derek Griffiths as Sneer and Nicholas Le Prevost as Dangle (Photo: Manuel Harlan)
Artistic Director Jonathan Church gives the residents of Sussex a reviewer's treat with the pairing of these two plays about theatrical criticism at the Minerva Theatre in Chichester. One is Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound and the other, the altogether earlier Sheridan play The Critic.

The Stoppard play is essentially a parody of that much loved theatre genre, the thriller or murder mystery. You only have to look at the long running The Mousetrap to know there's been an eager audience for these plays for a very long time. What Stoppard does is to extend the joke by making the play observed and commented on by a pair of critics:— Moon (Richard McCabe), the dedicated critic who comes alive night after night, and the altogether more elegant womaniser, Birdboot (Nicholas Le Prevost).

Richard McCabe sits in the audience, grimacing, his face screwed up and his neck disappearing into his raincoat as the intense, round shouldered critic Moon. He looks like a cross between two of today's national critics with his spectacles and longer hairstyle, his hesitant and stiff gait bemoaning his position as number three choice but providing lots of extra topographical information. Joe Dixon's debonair villain, the tall and rangy Simon, steals the play within a play scenes with his outrageous lothario seduction act. Women kiss him with only one foot on the floor.

In a Stoppardian master stroke, the critics are drawn into the action and actors may have to turn critics. The clichés of theatre posters abound as Stoppard sends up the profession he briefly espoused, sometimes writing as William Boot.

The Critic is a wordy piece despite its attractive appearance: white faced actors with beautiful regency costumes and an attractive eighteenth century set. Sheridan wrote it when he had purchased an interest in the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and the characters may be caricatures of people he knew. There is a delightfully topical reference to Lord North's coalition government being unworkable. Sean Foley makes a dazzling entrance as Sir Fretful Plagiary, the talentless playwright with a high puffy wig, lots of posing and a big grin. Richard McCabe's playwright and writer of inflated superlatives, Puff, is highly camp as he lists the scams he's used to raise funds from those of a charitable disposition.

The problem is that the play The Spanish Armada we have to sit through is rather tedious and adding to the ennui are the comments of the author and his over-lengthy explanations. Puff mouths all the words wrapt in the action or lack of it. However Javier Marzan as Mr Hopkins the Prompter and the Master of Horse is a perfect clown, and in the final Masque scene, his River Thames with blue nylon ringlets is a comic wonder to behold. I liked too, Joe Dixon's long haired Spaniard Don Ferolo Whiskerandos whose dying throes have him staggering towards the audience, threatening to land in a patron's lap. The Spanish Armada is replayed with men wearing boats and the battle is excitingly strobe lit with Sean Foley's bare bummed Britannia a ne'er to be forgotten derriere. Dangle (Nicholas Le Prevost) literally dangles when the globe to which he clings is raised aloft. Una Stubbs' Queen Elizabeth I is a right royal triumph!

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The Critic by Richard Brinsley Sheridan and The Real Inspector Hound by Tom Stoppard
Directed by Jonathan Church and Sean Foley

Starring: Richard McCabe, Nicholas Le Prevost, Una Stubbs, Joe Dixon, Sean Foley, Derek Griffiths, Javier Marzan, Sam Parks
With: Sophie Bould, Hermione Gulliford, Edward Hardwicke, Philippa Stanton, Tony Boncza, Michael Stevenson, Mark Field, Richard Kane
Design: Ruari Muchison
Lighting: Tim Mitchell
Sound: Jonathan Suffolk
Music: Matthew Scott
Running time: Two hours 50 minutes with one interval between the plays
Box Office: 01243 781312
Booking at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester Festival Theatre in rep until 28th August 2010
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 9th July 2010 performance at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester Festival Theatre, Oaklands Park, Chichester, West Sussex PO19 6AP (Rail: Chichester, under two hours from London by rail)

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