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SUDS’ wonderfully strange Double O’Bill: A night of detectives, wives, and corpses

If you have any appreciation for the strange, the unusual, the morbid, then to miss this double bill would be a genuine tragedy.

On Wednesday night, I had the pleasure of watching the opening performance of SUDS’ first double bill show in 8 years — The Real Inspector Hound by Tom Stoppard (directed by Charlie Papps) and The Bald Soprano by Eugene Ionesco (directed by Kieran Casey).

The Real Inspector Hound is a play within a play, it layers over itself in patterns like a lotus. A pantomime murder mystery plays out below, while up above two theatre critics, Moon (Maddie Lewis) and Birdboot (Danny Yazdani) squabble and entertain, revelling in their power as members of the intelligentsia. It all goes very wrong however, when they wander onstage and become entangled in the events of the play, resulting in an unfortunate pile-up of murdered corpses. Papps’ talent for farce is well suited to Stoppard’s play, and together with impressively crisp and cinematic lighting (Thomas Hennessy) make it mesmerising entertainment.

The melodramatic characters are classic Agatha Christie types, with the disturbingly funny Hugh Finlayson going the extra mile as Mrs Drudge, the maid — breathing hard like a pitbull and slugging sugar cubes so that the other actors are brutally tempted to break. The real stars of Hound are our critics. Lewis as Moon is intelligent, reserved, and outrageously unhinged, whilst remaining gripped and distracted with his fantasies of murdering his superior rival Higgs. He could not be more dissimilar to his counterpart. Yazdani’s Birdboot is a gorgeous glutton; a manspreading, chocolate-hoarding, womanising mess of a man in clickety-clackity heels, whose voluptuous appetite fills the stage from wall to wall. Their dynamic was wonderfully executed and warmed me with its light and witty humour. As the third critic in the room, I was so entertained that I did not have the presence of mind to be offended at Stoppard’s biting satire of their — admittedly absurd — profession.

After intermission, the set (designed by Artie Gallagher) has altered from its intimate red and gold into a much bleaker affair. For those unfamiliar, The Bald Soprano is the first marvellous play written by the French-speaking Ionesco during the time when he learnt English. He found it — according to accounts — a sober, strange, and vague sort of language. It is an absurdist play, a satire of London English and the families who speak it, and it requires a taste for morbid oddity. Student theatre is rarely strict in theatrical form as owing to our limited funds, cramped space and our (allegedly) flippant attitude to status quo — you must forgive me if I expected this performance to not quite capture the sheer chill of absurdism’s lawless futility. I was proved gratifyingly wrong. Casey’s direction has produced the absurdist ‘sting’ that I find so cathartic.

Many things happen in the play. Mostly it’s about a dinner that never happens. With painstaking hesitancy, Mr Martin (Milla McInnes) and Mrs Martin (Wesley Stewart) discover that they are husband and wife (spoiler: they aren’t). Mr Smith (Milly McPherson) and Mrs Smith (Jade Gillis) discuss dinner (actually Mrs Smith describes it while Mr Smith clicks his tongue). The Fire Chief (Hugh Finlayson) comes looking for a fire and instead professes his love to the maid Mary (Maddie Lewis), who recites a poem while being ejected from the room by her employers. Each couple is their own brand of strange. The Martins are like meek, ignorant children, unable to grasp a single mote of their reality. The Smiths are delightfully disturbing, and their odd melodic voices are eerie. Gillis in particular gives a stellar performance. Ionesco’s plays famously require deadly amounts of concentration, and to my astonishment Gillis’ energy does not drop for a single moment during the performance. Her Mrs Smith was scarily remote, like a clock figurine as her voice felt so far from human. Bravo.

If you have any appreciation for the strange, the unusual, the morbid, then to miss this double bill would be a genuine tragedy. Even if not to your usual tastes, the farcical indulgence of Hound will please anyone, and The Bald Soprano will be a fresh challenge to your theatrical senses.

Double O’Bill will be performing at the Cellar Theatre until the 27th of May.

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