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Production

The Real Inspector Hound

Company

Buds Youth Theatre

Reviewer

Fong Li Ling

Date

21/07/2005

Time

8.00pm

Place

Play Den, The Arts House

Rating

**

Reality Check

The Real Inspector Hound probes the idea of reality - questioning what is, well, real - and exposes the blurry boundaries between the audience and the stage.

Those familiar with Stoppard would have been acquainted with this comedy. Not side-splittingly funny but definitely memorable. The play begins with two theatre reviewers, Moon (Hansel Tan) and Birdboot (Joel Lim), who find each other at the theatre, watching what they presume is a whodunnit. At the end of the first act of the whodunnit, the killer is still on the loose. In the midst of their furious professional banter about how the play fared and how it is going to progress, the telephone onstage rings incessantly. One wonders why the reviewers did not move back to their seats in quiet anticipation of the commencement of the new act (like they naturally would when an onstage phone rings). In any case, Moon impatiently troops onstage to answer it. And this is when the fun really begins.

The person at the other end of the call turns out to be Birdboot's wife, Myrtle, and she wants to speak to him. Goodness knows how she got connected to that telephone, but it surely adds to the humour and the mystery of the play. To Moon's horror and the audience's amusement, Birdboot does not return to his seat after taking the telephone call. Instead, he conveniently takes the place of Simon Gascoyne (Ebi Shankara), a character in the whodunnit. In Moon's attempt to pull Birdboot out of this mess, he gets himself entangled too. Moon becomes Inspector Hound, while the reviewers' places are taken by the original Gascoyne and Inspector Hound from the play. In Moon's panic due to his strange new circumstances, he lets slip his fake identity to the characters and ends up getting shot by the real Inspector Hound, who is actually Puckeridge, Moon's real-life reviewing deputy!

It is all hugely confusing, no doubt, but rather fascinating with it. In The Real Inspector Hound, the idea of the stage is deconstructed, and the possibility of the audience's participation in the world of the play is explored. Perhaps, to paraphrase Shakespeare, all the world literally is a stage.

Buds Youth Theatre's staging of this curious piece scored with its intriguing and attention-grabbing set design and pop-art-like costumes and make-up. Set designer Sebastian Zeng chose to bind all the furniture with cloth of the same colour, creating a shade of monotony across the set. While the tightly bound furniture represented a cover-up of what is real, its uniform colour told of an intimate connection between the reviewers' and the actors' arenas.

Costumes and make-up were clever and flamboyant, and they pushed the characters into caricatures. Felicity's get-up was most glaring and left the strongest impression. Dressed in a fire engine red Lycra dress teamed with pointy heels of the same hue, she also had on a long-sleeved shrug of bright yellow with an aqua ribbon at the front. What was most unforgettable was her
make-up: multiple lipstick marks drawn all over her face. No two characters dressed in the same shade, and no actor escaped the fate of wearing something over the top. This greatly enhanced the audience's visual experience.

Unfortunately, the young cast did not deliver as well as their design counterparts. Enunciation was weak for most of them, and accents - if they were proper accents at all - were all over the place. Simon sounded disconcertingly Indian at one point, while Magnus (Kelvin John Lim) spoke in a familiar Singaporean staccato with a voice that sounded like an eager twenty-year-old instead of the conniving middle-aged man he should have been. Inspector Hound (Ang Yi Han) also had a voice that was not grounded. He kept to the same high frequency throughout his entire time onstage, which was a pain to the ears and, I suspect, to his own throat as well. His poor voice work was also a contributing factor to the sinking endings of his lines.

There were several weak moments in the play that made me question whether the actors truly knew their characters well. As Birdboot, Lim's eyes were shifty, and he talked too fast at times. There were also instances when it was hard to tell the emotion he wanted to convey. And his mendacious attempts to defend himself as a "family man" were feeble or even half-hearted when they should have been full of bluster. Inspector Hound seemed like a bunch of nerves the whole time - I have no idea why - though I am certain it was not because of actor Ang's own nerves. The chemistry between the actors had not been established either, and this was particularly telling in a scene where Simon and the reviewers were supposed to speak lines with no apparent connection in quick succession to create a comic effect. The timing was off for this scene, which resulted in its humour falling flat.

However, the show was not without a saving grace. Hansel Tan presented Moon convincingly, with a good amount of energy and gusto. Tan could well be the one who held the performance together from the start to the end. And how could I forget the wonderfully inert portrayal of Higgs, the dead body that never budged an inch, and remained half-sprawled over the table throughout the play!

The energy level was rather low in the first half but fortunately picked up in the second half, when the reviewers broke the stage boundaries and became part of the play they were watching.

Despite the glitches, I think these young people deserve a pat on the back for their sense of adventure and passion for the craft. Also, Buds Youth Theatre should definitely continue its work in providing free drama and theatre skills training to youths. As someone who is of an age eligible to join the company, I believe budding young actors would greatly appreciate such a place, where they are provided with the chance to learn relevant skills from professionals.


"The energy level was rather low at the first half but fortunately picked up in the second half, when the reviewers broke the stage boundaries and became part of the play they were watching"

Credits

Playwright: Tom Stoppard

Director: Tan Cheng Hung

Production Manager: Claire Devine

Stage Management: Carolene, Sahirah and Jeremy

Crew: Ashley and Ghaz

Set Design: Sebastian Zeng

Lighting Design: James Tan

Sound Design: Robert Devine

Visual Design: Tan Aiwei

Costume Design: Edna Pan

Wigs Design: Ashley's Salon

Cast: Hansel Tan, Joel Lim, Cheryl Lee, Rebecca Lee, Ebi Shankara, Pamela Tham, Kelvin John Lim and Ang Yi Han

Previous Productions by Buds Youth Theatre
Hip Hopera

More Reviews by Fong Li Ling

Ratings out of 5, based on Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent / Rapturous;
**** = Crystal / Appreciative; *** = Transmitted / Thoughtful; ** = Vague / Unsatisfied; * = Uncommunicated / Mystified.