As the last of the apple pie was served and coffee cir-culated, the hum of conversation
died down and we adjusted our chairs in anticipation. Lights flickered, and after
a false start, which may or may not have been deliberate, the Phnom Penh Players
swung into action. Tom Stoppard's "The Real Inspector Hound" proved an
ideal vehicle to showcase this amateur group's talents.
"The Real Inspector Hound" was written primarily to protest the ridiculous
self-indulgence of London theater critics in the 1960s, who took it upon themselves
to interpret and re-interpret everything from Shakespeare to Stoppard. They would
find hidden meaning in the most mundane details, and generally pontificated in a
long-winded, self-important manner.
What is normally the lobby in Crackers Restaurant was transformed into the drawing-room
of Muldoon Manor for three nights last month for the Players' premiere engagement.
Joining us mere mortals in the audience were the critics Birdboot and Moon (Barry
Rogers and Robin Davies respectively). This well-matched pair provided a running
commentary on the action onstage, constantly second-guessing the labyrinthine plot,
and occasionally going beyond their mandate by making references to CivPol and other
key players in the current political situation in the country. Surrounded by such
opulence, it was difficult to remember that one was still after all in Phnom Penh.
The play is a whodunit farce, with every character a stereotype from the drawing-room
comedy genre. The cast is called upon to "ham" it up and this the Phnom
Penh Players did to perfection.
From the "help" at the Manor, Mrs. Drudge (convincingly portrayed by Katy
Attfield) to the upper-class crustiness of Lady Muldoon (Marguerite Englehardt) to
the effervescent tennis-playing Felicity, (Trudy Jacobsen), to the Cad, Simon Gasgoigne
(Nick Hughes)-every character was a cliche. Hardly a line of dialogue was unfamiliar
if you've ever read Agatha Christie or P.G. Wodehouse. Stoppard was obviously having
fun with drawing-room comedy conventions and the players were definitely having fun
with the play.
Robin Biddulph had the thankless task of playing "The Body," snoozing on
stage for the duration of the drama while the others played. Paul Toal (Magnus) made
flamboyant entrances and exits, sometimes having difficulty maneuvering his wheelchair
within the confines of the set. Bruce Blaikie as one of the Inspector Hounds made
suitably policemen-sounding noises as he assured all inmates of the Manor of their
safety from the killer on the loose in the vicinity.
Much credit is due to Bill Lobban, no stranger to matters theatrical, who coordinated
and directed the proceedings.
On one or two occasions prompting was audible, but this merely served to enhance
an already comically absurd situation. All in all it was an enjoyable evening. All
three nights were oversubscribed, so there's obviously a demand for this kind of
thing (dinner and theater).
The Phnom Penh Players are planning a second presentation sometime early next year-perhaps
a review on the antics of UNTAC. The possibilities are endless and patrons present
or future should note that any profits (on this particular occasion the Phnom Penh
Players just about managed to break even), will be donated to charity.