The Hound of the Baskervilles
Arthur Conan Doyle, adapted by Steven Canny and John Nicholson for Peepolykus
Original Theatre Company and Octagon Theatre, Bolton
York Theatre Royal
This adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s venerable tale is itself getting on a bit, given that it is nearly fifteen years since its creation by clowning company Peepolykus. It’s had over 200 different productions, amateur and professional, in the intervening period, and its appeal quickly becomes clear as we’re welcomed in by the likeable trio of multiroling performers.
The notion of taking a classic (i.e. out-of-copyright) story and giving it a small-cast adaptation replete with metatheatrical gags, swift costume changes and absurd props has become a staple of the mainstream, and has spawned related formats such as The [insert genre here] Goes Wrong Shows. Indeed, one of the trio of performers in this production, Niall Ransome, has a lengthy pedigree in those Mischief Theatre shows as well as other similar work.
One challenge of a production such as this is to take a script that was devised by and for the performance personas of a different set of actors and to shape it to the new circumstances and to the strengths of the new cast. But all three actors here drawing on strong clowning skills, seemingly boundless energy and just good old-fashioned stage presence in reincarnating Canny and Nicholson’s text.
To recap the story itself is probably unnecessary at this stage, but suffice it to say that if you don’t already know the solution to Conan Doyle’s mystery you should come away from the production with a pretty good grasp of its ins and outs (albeit with some embellishments). Given the quantity of additional gags and general japery that goes on around the central tale, the play captures the essence of the whodunit surprisingly well.
Jake Ferretti gets to play Sherlock Holmes, in a pleasingly down-to-earth counterpart to, for instance, Benedict Cumberbatch’s preternaturally gifted, practically omniscient superhero version. The flashes of envy and moments where Holmes lags behind the story are exquisite touches.
But of course, it does not end there, and, like the other two, Ferretti gets to play some of the outlandish characters that populate the moor around Baskerville Hall. Perhaps most memorable is his incarnation of both Mr and Miss Stapleton, the latter extravagantly flamencoing with Sir Henry (Serena Manteghi) as the two fall for each other.
Manteghi plays this key role—and several other neatly differentiated comic turns—with the clarity, wit and timing of an expert clown. From her opening mime solo to the range of incidental characters she takes on, she gives a joyous set of performances. While fittingly extreme, her physical, vocal and facial contortions are always nonetheless precise and well-judged.
The aforementioned Niall Ransome completes the cast as Dr Watson. Like Ferretti and Manteghi, Ransome is an energetic and sympathetic performer whose Watson is the heart of the production. Sometimes baffled, sometimes surprising Holmes with his astute analysis, he gets a protracted riff on ‘puzzles’ that had me chuckling heartily. And like the other two, Ransome looks like he’s having a ball in the multiple supporting roles he’s called upon to incarnate.
Lotte Wakeham’s direction (with Tim Jackson as the tour director) draws out the variety show stylings of the text, with the performers in constant dialogue with the audience. The show stops short of pantomime insanity, but it’s a similarly generous exchange—open, and stuffed with daft humour—which makes it a delicious reminder of the joys of live theatre.
Reviewer: Mark Smith