Audience and The Real Inspector Hound, Shaftesbury Arts Centre

SHAFTESBURY Arts Centre drama group is cris-crossing the fourth wall with this spring double bill of Michael Frayn’s Audience and Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound, on at the Bell Street theatre until Saturday 13th April.

Crossing the fourth wall is an enticing project for a playwright, and Frayn adds to the fun of his “audience” watching a performance (us, the audience, as it were) by having his “playwright” (Alex Chase) agonising over the inability of the audience to understand what is going on, to get his jokes, to feel for his characters. They are much too busy wondering why they have come, complaining about their seats, fussing with their bags of sweets, groping their mistress’s knee or trying to make eye contact with the attractive girl/boy two seats away, across her father’s back.

Stoppard’s early one-acter is both a nod to his own time as a drama critic, as a young journalist in Bristol, and a satire on the vanity of critics. The central characters are the critics, Birdboot (Dominic Bird) and Moon (Carl Davies), sitting in their seats at the performance of a particularly preposterous whodunnit. Between the scenes of the creaking country house thriller, we glimpse the critics’ professional rivalry, jealousy and self-importance. No spoilers, but in this clever comedy, one critic takes theatrical matters into his own hands.

Congratulations to director Jerome Swan for the clever pairing of these plays, drawing excellent performances from his large casts, and many thanks from the “real” audience to the expert Shaftesbury stage crew who gave us a mirror image of ourselves. (Possibly even more thought-provoking for the critic in row L).


Pictured: “Audience participation” in Michael Frayn’s Audience; one of the critics reads his copy of The Stage before his colleague arrives.

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