After Magritte

by Tom Stoppard

Directed by Alan Root

July 8th - 13th, 2003

The Tower Theatre performing at the Courtyard Theatre, King's Cross

Presented as a double-bill with Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound


Cast List

Harris : Harry Reeder
Thelma : Christie Miller
Mother : Barbara Mathews
Foot : Simon Bullock
Holmes : Peter Westbury


Production Team

Director : Alan Root
Set Design : Rebecca Vincent
Lighting Design : Robert Irvine

Stage Manager : Colette Dockery
DSM : Claire Christy
ASM : Sophie Talbot
Lighting operator : Zizi Sulkin
Sound operator : Dinah Irvine
Wardrobe : Jill Batty, Barbara Mathews
Set construction : Keith Syrett, John Feather, Keith Hill, Terry Baker-Self, Elise Harder

In-house review by Colin Smith for "Noises Off"

Before his retirement Colin Smith was a BBC Radio producer specialising in poetry and drama for schools He will be directing Forget Me Not Lane during the autumn.

Tom Stoppard's output over the last 35 years covers a wide swathe of subjects and approaches, and shows no signs of fizzling out - the sad pattern of so many modern dramatists. More recently his work has included the challengingly original Arcadia, The Invention of Love with its bravura role of A.E. Housman, and the ambitious if uneven trilogy The Coast of Utopia. After Magritte and The Real Inspector Hound, which the Tower presented at the Courtyard Theatre recently, belong to his early career at the end of the 1960s : a planned double bill. Magritte, a 25-minute curtainraiser, stems from that now long defunct genre the Theatre of the Absurd, or School of Ionesco, whose The Chairs and Bald Prima Donna delighted and shocked the mid-fifties. These pieces were engagingly loopy for the first ten minutes or so but thereafter tended to more of the same thing with ever-increasing tedium. But this was the wave which was to cast up the richer pickings of Pinter and Stoppard.

Magritte's visual jokes from the start - Mother on the ironing board, Harris bare-chested in thigh-length waders, a peeping policeman - at once acknowledge the debt to Ionesco. From the domestic squabble that follows it soon becomes clear that Stoppard's main concern lay with the incongruities of language, misunderstandings and crazy hypotheses that followed. Magritte continues to be inventive and funny but it is obviously the slighter piece, and director Alan Root ensured that the action didn't linger on the occasional patches of thin ice. Mostly the humour wore well - the extended discussion of the merits of a one-legged footballer, or the question of whether an ivory cane bears the same implication as a white stick.

The opening domestic spat found Harris and Thelma battling against the interventions of her truculent tuba-playing mother (Barbara Mathews). Christie Miller gave a sharply focused portrayal of suburban anxiety and Harry Reeder weighed in as her domineering husband, though when the necessarily commanding manner of Detective Inspector Foot followed I did wonder whether Harris might have been played more lightly for vocal variety. Simon Bullock's Foot had the right balance of dull-wittedness and humour; Alan Root's policeman peered impassively through the windows of Rebecca Vincent's effective dual-purpose setting, and the back-up on some formidable technical demands was assured.

With Val Whitehouse's pacey production of The Real Inspector Hound, Stoppard's verbal confusions lead to wider scope. Ostensibly a send-up of a country house murder mystery, it leads on to question the nature of reality: the critics of the performance, Moon and Birdboot, are drawn into the action and characters of what they are reviewing. This illusion/reality joke goes back even further than Buster Keaton's dual involvement in the famous scene from The Projectionist, but Stoppard gives it fresh impetus. A scatter-shot of targets includes melodramatic clichés and ominous remarks ("The night is not over yet!"), ludicrous situations (Myrtle's phone call), reviewing in old-style BBC Critics' manner, and other comic interruptions).

Moon's involvement with stage character Felicity was played to the full by Gail Willis, and Jonathan Norris was commendably relaxed with the demanding rococo diction assigned to Birdboot. Julie Dark doubled as daily help and accomplished cardsharp with some neatly timed exits, Terry Mathews (Magnus) blustered impressively in the commanding tones of the Raj. Harry Reeder's Simon was a convincing lounge lizard, and as Moon, the stern critic sweeping all before him, Simon Bullock found the call of Romance. Chris Holmes made a late but telling entrance as Inspector Hound himself. Sound cues, and lighting design (Robert Irvine) gave solid support to the various moods, and a Good Time Was Had By All.