The Real Inspector Hound
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|The Real Inspector Hound|
|Written by||Tom Stoppard|
|Date premiered||17th June 1968|
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 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.
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."
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 theater critic, or Moon's stand-in. In early versions of the play, this character was called "McCafferty".
Play-within-a-play characters 
Mrs Drudge - The maid, or char, of Muldoon Manor. One of Stoppard's primary vehicles for emphasizing the satirical character of the story. Her cockney accent adds to the humor of Stoppard's play.
Simon Gascoyne - New to the neighborhood, 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.
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.
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 neighborhood 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 recognize 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 anymore. 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 recognizing 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.
Critical analysis 
||This section may contain original research. (October 2012)|
The barrier between the critics and the actors onstage is blurred from the beginning when the audience "appear[s] to be confronted by their own reflection in a huge mirror". The audience is subtly brought into the play without its consent playing a vital role in the upcoming scenes. After several scenes of the "play" have taken place, the audience can notice a more precise divide. The annoying ringing of the phone onstage, which according to Inspector Hound has been cut, instigates Birdboot to jump onstage to answer the phone. After Birdboot finally picks up the onstage phone, completely crossing the audience-stage barrier, we find out that Myrtle, Birdboot's curious and untrusting wife, has been the one calling looking for him. At the moment Birdboot crosses into the realm of the stage to answer the phone, the barrier vanishes as he now becomes part of the plot and assumes the role of Simon, as his love life parallels that of the Casanova. Soon, Moon follows and transforms into the role of the investigator, whereas Simon and Hound occupy the critics' positions in the audience. The disappearance of the barrier is finalized as the audience discovers the unknown body is that of Higgs, and assumes that the real murderer must be Puckeridge.
A happy juxtaposition between fantasy and reality is observed in The Real Inspector Hound as Birdboot and Moon are able to live out their fantasies through their involvement in the play. Birdboot becomes the handsome young dapper who promiscuously gallivants about the stage in the role formerly occupied by Simon, while Moon finally transforms into the first-string critic and is able to play the role of the leading man when he puts on the shoes of Inspector Hound. Both critics become the characters of their dreams; they no longer are the husband that sneaks around behind his wife's back and the man who desperately wants to be recognized and admired. They in essence become the characters of the play, further blurring the line between a "stage world" and reality.
Stoppard also satirizes the profession of theater critics by exploring the hierarchy of society, particularly the role of fill-ins, second-strings, and substitutes in relation to their "betters". Nowhere else is this more evident than in the fretting of Moon over the existence of Higgs, the main critic, as well as Puckeridge's ultimate usurpation of Higgs' and Moon's positions by killing them both, perhaps as a reflection on the effects that ignominy has on characters.
The play also explores the cynical approach that critics take to plays and appears to deliver a message claiming that all critiques are subject to their own biases. While Moon and Birdboot are understandably extreme examples, Stoppard uses these characters to show how self-aggrandizement can muddle the true purpose of a play through Moon (who uses the play as an attempt to show off his skills in the brief period where Higgs, the person he is standing in for, is absent) or how other interests can jeopardize the integrity of a play through Birdboot, who pens lavish reviews as long as there are visually pleasing female leads in the play.
- 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
External references 
- 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.