SUDS’ double bill production of Peter Schaffer’s Black Comedy and Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound was an absolute joke. The lighting in Black Comedy was clearly under-rehearsed to the point of madness—all the scenes intended to be in darkness were well lit, and vice versa. As a result, watching character’s stumbling around in the light was completely unrealistic. What’s more, I was appalled to note that, during The Real Inspector Hound, two of my fellow reviewers not only spoke through the entire play, but had the audacity to join the stage. To be frank, the whole evening was nothing short of a complete farce.
All self indulgent jokes aside, “Black Hound” is a delightful evening. It is refreshing to see SUDS return to straight comedy after a number of more serious dramas, and co-directors Bennett Sheldon and Peter Walsh have done so in an exciting way, attempting to incorporate the modern into these two classics.
Despite a somewhat subdued audience, the humour hits most of its marks. Some minor issues in pacing occurred and as such certain too-slow sections of The Real Inspector Hound fell somewhat flat. These moments, however, were overshadowed by the wonderful absurdity of the play—the cast and crew have done well in letting the wit of Stoppard’s writing shine through, without dressing it up.
Black Comedy was by far the more polished of the two plays—despite a minor accident wherein half the set nearly fell down, which was handled well by cast members. Clemmie Williams as Brindsley is highly compelling throughout the play, and her oftentimes wordless hilarity is a wonderful focal point for the play. The physical comedy here is outrageous without feeling gimmicky, and as much as I cackled every time Alexander Richmond (Colonel, Birdboot) toppled out of his rocking chair, the strength of the direction in this play lies in the establishment of fleshed-out character work.
The actors are transformed from the first play to the second, highlighting the versatility of each performer. Georgia Britt (Furnival, Felicity) and David Quaglia (Schuppanzigh, Magnus) are practically unrecognisable in their dual roles.
If anything, the main fault of Black Hound is that it aims too high. The production is a very ambitious one, and one which incorporates a number of ambitious elements, including most notably the camera and projection screen and the set, a quasi-recreation of the much-missed Cellar Theatre. These lofty goals are in moments just missed—there a few ill-timed sound and lighting cues throughout, and the projection is blurred for much of the beginning of The Real Inspector Hound, as well as being placed where such that it becomes counter-productive to look at in certain scenes—with a cast this strong, this distraction feels unnecessary. When these goals are missed—when the real world peeks around the tottering grey side wall—the fragile world inside is threatened, the audience’s immersion briefly lost. But it is the wacky levity of these two plays that allows the production to roll with these small setbacks and come out the other side unscathed.
“Black Hound” is, on the whole, a delightfully chaotic evening. One almost thinks that the whole set falling down wouldn’t have changed or troubled a thing.