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Theatre / The Real Inspector Hound

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The Real Inspector Hound is a play by Tom Stoppard, first produced in 1967. The play revolves around two critics, Moon and Birdboot, attending the opening night of the titular Play Within a Play (a transparent Agatha Christie spoof) before gradually getting sucked into the action themselves.


  • As You Know: Parodied to the hilt. All the characters in the Play Within a Play indulge in this.
    "I'm a friend of Lady Muldoon, the lady of the house having just made her acquaintance through a mutual friend, Felicity Cunningham"
    "Major Magnus, the crippled half-brother of Lord Muldoon who turned up out of the blue from Canada"
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  • Beneath Notice: As Moon is Higgs's stand-in whenever he's indisposed (and has a much smaller influence on the theatrical world as a result), so is Puckeridge his substitute, which gives Moon a little bit of spiteful satisfaction — "nobody knows [what he's like as a critic]", he sneers, because "there's always been me and Higgs". Birdboot doesn't even know who the man is at first or what he looks like, while Moon can't recognize him until he takes off his disguise as Magnus; by then, he's already killed Higgs and Birdboot, and he promptly eliminates his final obstacle to fame and success.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The French phrases that one of the characters rattles off while playing cards translate to something you might hear at a roulette table: "No more bets ... red and black ... zero!"
  • Calvinball: The game of "Pontoon Bridge" in the play-within-the-play. When Birdboot ends up replacing Simon in the game, he has no idea what the other three players are doing, but when he throws a card down and shouts "And I'll call your bluff!", Magnus groans and Lady Muldoon congratulates him; after another even more bizarre round, he tries it again with similar results.
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  • Casting Couch: A variant; it's an open secret among other critics and theatre veterans that Birdboot, a "plumpish, middle-aged" married man, seduces up-and-coming, naive young actresses, then heaps praise on them in his reviews until his next fling. The man denies it, but not very well.
    Birdboot: For God's sake, Moon, what's the matter with you? You could do yourself some good, spotting her first time out — she's new, from the provinces, going straight to the top. I don't want to put words into your mouth, but a word from us and we could make her.
    Moon: [Dryly] I suppose you've made dozens of them, like that.
    Birdboot: HOW DARE YOU?! [Embarrassed, he adjusts his voice to a lower volume] How dare you.
    Birdboot: Oh, I know what people will say... 'there goes Birdboot, buttering up his latest' —
    Moon: Ignore them —
    Birdboot: But I rise above that — the fact is, I genuinely believe her performance to be one of the summits in the range of contemporary theatre. The radiance, the inner sadness... the part as written is a mere cypher, but she manages to make Cynthia a real person —
    Moon: [Expecting Felicity, who had already caught Birdboot's eye] CYNTHIA?
    Birdboot: And should she, as a result, care to meet me over a drink, simply by way of, er... thanking me, as it were —
    Moon: Well, you fickle old bastard!
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  • Chekhov's Gunman: Played with.
  • Closed Circle: The play-within-the-play is a murder mystery of the "isolated house cut off by bad weather" variety.
  • Cut Phone Lines: In the play-within-the-play, the murderer cuts the phone wires of Muldoon Manor. It fails to prevent the phone from ringing again later in the scene after the play reboots.
  • Lesser Star: Moon is only the deputy critic (to Higgs) and feels bitter about that — he gets his own Character Filibuster on the plight of the understudy. Still, at least he isn't Puckeridge, the understudy's understudy.
  • Metafictional Title: The Real Inspector Hound is the title of both the play itself and the play-within-the-play.
  • Mr. Exposition: Mrs Drudge can hardly open her mouth without emitting poorly-shoehorned-in exposition.
    I'm afraid there is no one of that name here, this all very mysterious and I'm sure it's leading up to something, I hope nothing is amiss for we, that is Lady Muldoon and her houseguests, are here cut off from the world, including Magnus, the wheel-chair-ridden half-brother of the ladyship's husband Lord Albert Muldoon who ten tears ago went for a walk on the cliff and was never seen again.
  • Old, Dark House: Muldoon Manor in the play-within-the-play.
  • Once More, with Clarity!: Done with a twist in the second act. Within the first act of the show on stage, there are several non-sequitur lines by the characters. In the second act, when Birdboot, and later Moon, join the cast onstage, these events are replayed again with expanded dialog that alternately makes more sense and comes off as even more non-sequitur.
  • One Scene, Two Monologues: The early conversation in which Moon reflects on the plight of the understudy theatre critic while Birdboot explains his designs on the play's leading lady.
  • Repeating So the Audience Can Hear: Every telephone conversation in the play-within-the-play.
  • Reviews Are the Gospel: In-universe and exaggerated, as the two critics cannot stop delivering self-important pronouncements of opinion, Moon's being high-minded and Birdboot's more earthy. Birdboot is such an esteemed elder scribbler that his review (presumably a rave) of what's currently playing at the Theatre Royal has been reprinted in full as a huge neon sign on the building, to which he feigns modesty; not to be outdone, Moon then gives a spontaneous review of the sign itself.
  • Self-Parody: The secret villain, Puckeridge, takes deliberate advantage of how Stoppard's own works use the concept of metafiction, and orchestrates his victory by influencing, and hiding in, the ambiguous reality of a play-within-a-play.
  • Shout-Out: The whole play is a parody of The Mousetrap with references to The Hound of the Baskervilles dotted throughout.
  • Show Within a Show
  • Straw Critic: Moon is an incredibly anally retentive over-analytical type who insists on comparing the play they are watching to the works of Jean-Paul Sartre. Birdboot is a Dirty Old Man who gives high praise to any actress he fancies seducing.
  • Stylistic Suck: The whole of the Play Within a Play.
  • Suspect Is Hatless: The suspicious man lurking near Muldoon Manor is unhelpfully described over the radio as being "of a medium height and build and youngish", while wearing "a darkish suit with a lightish shirt." A man fitting that description immediately creeps by Mrs. Drudge, who doesn't even notice.
  • The Tape Knew You Would Say That: The radio announcement in the play-within-the-play. (Made doubly fun by stage directions which suggest that the radio voice be pre-recorded for the show.)
    Radio voice: The killer has been spotted in the vicinity of isolated Muldoon Manor.
    Mrs. Drudge: Muldoon Manor?
    Radio voice: Yes, Muldoon Manor.
  • Wham Line:
    Birdboot: [examining the dead body on stage] It's Higgs.
  • What Do You Mean, It's Not Symbolic?: In-universe, Moon's approach to his reviewing what is basically a simple countryhouse whodunnit, in contrast to Birdboot taking it at face value. At one point, he asks that "we" are entitled to ask "where is God?" (an absence, in the Nietzschean sense); Birdboot, utterly baffled, starts studying his programme to see if there's someone in the cast listed as God.
    Birdboot: It's a sort of thriller, isn't it?
    Moon: Is it?
    Birdboot: That's what I heard. 'Who killed thing'? — no-one will leave the house.
    Moon: I suppose so. Underneath.
    Birdboot: [Confused] UNDERNEATH?