Michael Simpson and Caroline Cave display dead-on timing in The Real Inspector Hound.
THE REAL INSPECTOR HOUND by Tom Stoppard/BLACK COMEDY by Peter Shaffer, directed by Jim Warren (Soulpepper). At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (55 Mill). To September 20. $5-$65. 416-866-8666, soulpepper.ca. See Continuing. Rating: NNNN
Soulpepper's comedic double bill showcases two British one-act farces written in the 1960s that are now considered modern classics of the genre for their use of inventive stage gimmicks.
Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound skewers Agatha Christie's long-running whodunit The Mousetrap by satirizing its melodramatic formula and surprise ending. Stoppard's script plays with the fourth wall by framing the main action as a play-within-a-play being critiqued by two capricious theatre critics. Absurdity reigns when circumstances catapult the critics from their seats onto the stage and into the deadly action of the stock murder-mystery plot.
The best humour here stems from the fidgety tension between the well-cast critics. Oliver Dennis plays Moon, a chronically insecure second-string reviewer, as the perfect straight man to Michael Simpson's philandering, hyperbole-prone Birdboot. The only flaw is the all-too-frequent use of dramatic pauses accompanied by jarring organ stabs, which disrupts the pacing of this otherwise brilliant piece of meta-humour.
Next up, Peter Shaffer's Black Comedy revolves around the central gag of dark/light inversion. Set during a blackout, the show's shtick is that the audience only sees light when the characters are in darkness.
Most of the humour is classic farcical fare involving mistaken identity, slapstick and frantic pacing. But Shaffer's seen/unseen experiment allows for these to be executed by the skilful ensemble in novel ways, like when Brindsley (Mike Shara) trysts with an old flame literally under the nose of his unsuspecting fiancée.
While watching people blindly stumble around could get old quickly, non-stop plot twists and a great performance by C. David Johnson (who plays the imposing Colonel Melkett like a British Teddy Roosevelt) keep Black Comedy fresh.