Monday, March 12, 2012

The Real Inspector Hound: Parodying Mystery

In my last post on Agatha Christie, I had mentioned about a play that parodies her immensely successful play The Mousetrap. The Real Inspector Hound, written by Tom Stoppard is the play that satirizes the conventions of crime and mystery dramas made popular by stalwarts like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. A few months back, an enactment of this play directed by Nayantara Kotian and Prashant Prakash and presented by Quaff Theatre, Mumbai was done at Ranga Shankara, Bangalore. The show was immensely funny and engaging. Though it was a satire on the whodunit genre, the suspense was tight throughout the play till the terrific convention breaking climax.  

The play breaks the fourth wall and is enacted as a play within a play. It floors the audience before the opening scene when across the audience, opposite to a carefully set stage; one of the characters sits and waits impatiently for the play to begin. Then it is revealed that it is the theatre critic Moon, who is just a second string guy called in to review the play in the absence of Higgs, the main critic. He is joined by Birdboot, another critic, a womanizer who praises the pretty actresses in his reviews in exchange of sexual favors.

The play inside the play happens in a country manor, surrounded by jungle, swamps and a cliff- a convenient claustrophobic setting where no one from outside can come in and the suspicion is only on  insiders. The characters are a widow, Cynthia, whose husband was dead in mysterious circumstances, her good lady friend, Felicity, the young man Simon who used to be in love with Cynthia but is trying to woo the hostess, the crippled brother of Cynthia’s dead husband, a maid servant and an unnoticed corpse. A radio message that a mad man prone to violent behavior is on lose is thrown in thereby causing frantic reactions. Inspector Hound, in search of the maniac killer enters the house and finds the corpse. He starts his investigation in the typical Holmes style.  Slowly the critics whose tragic lives are paralleled in the play get entangled with the play and they too get involved in the mess with tragic results.

The play works in many levels, as an absurd comedy, a spoof on mystery drama, a social satire on hierarchical set up and an attempt to break the difference between fantasy and reality. Stoppard also criticizes the double standards carried out by different people in society, thereby living a dual life, one which is real and another which they want to be.

Incidentally I happened to go through another experiment with mystery novels. The Curious Case of 221B is a novel by Partha Basu that tries to view Holmes canon in a different way. The author tries to make a story out of inconsistencies of Conan Doyle stories. But unfortunately the end result is an uninspiring, lazy collection of Holmes stories that does not connect with the reader. I could not go through more than three stories that in no way enrich your Holmes experience. So The Curious Case of 221B becomes the first book in decades that I abandoned halfway.   

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