‘Hound of the Baskervilles’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by March 22, 2014

‘Hound of the Baskervilles’ is a classic mystery written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It has been adapted for the stage by Steven Canny and John Nicholson; and first produced in January 2007.  Steven Canny is a multi, major award winning, Executive Producer in BBC Comedy with more than 300 hours of comedy on Radio 4. He co-wrote the spoofs ‘The Arthur Conan Doyle Appreciation Society’ and ‘The Importance of Being Honest’.

This sublimely amusing ARENAarts’ production can be seen at the Latvian Centre (LC Theatre), 60 Cleaver Terrace, Belmont. Plenty of free parking. The two-hour performances run nightly at 8.00 pm until the 5th April, with matinees on Sunday 23rd and the 30th March at 2.00 pm.

The set (Allan James) is deliberately minimalistic, with a simple door frame representing a door; this allows the zany sound effects to fill in the illusion. At one stage a whole pack of hounds came onto the stage – well as many glove puppets as the stage hands could hold – and what if one was Aggro! Who cares? One particular prop was quite spectacular, making the audience jump on its entrance.

There is a stunning backcloth painted by scenic artist extraordinaire, Tim Prosser. With quite simple scenery, quality lighting was required to ensure the creepy effect, well done Mario Piccoli on your lighting design.

 According to the script, all the characters are played by three male actors, director Simon James decided to use three females instead and the result is even, more hilarious.

       When Sir Charles Baskerville is found dead, petrified to death by a massive hound, an anonymous note is sent to Sherlock Holmes (Amanda Watson) at Baker Street – cue Gerry Rafferty!! Yes this tale is filled with clever cringe jokes – telling him to keep away from Dartmoor. Naturally, Holmes is intrigued and so with his bumbling right-hand man, Dr Watson (Bree Vreedenburgh) they set off immediately for Baskerville Hall in search of the truth.

       Our heroes sink into a quagmire, come face to face with some yokels. Why is the butler so strange? Will his beautiful sister win over a loving heart?

       Will they unravel the mysteries of the Hound before it takes yet another Baskerville victim, Sir Henry (Rachael Maher)?

 

 The director, Simon James, has gathered the perfect cast. Having three physically different actors allows for immediate recognition of the myriad characters they play in this parody. With a script laden with double-entendres, puns and jokes the buffoons are in their element. The humour is expressed by voice, expression and wonderful body language. Not even the tiniest of jokes is allowed to slip through their superb comedic performance. Every second of this play has a laugh, a smile or a groan being generated. The cast interact directly with the audience, Holmes even picking an argument with one poor punter.

The soundscape (Simon James) is incredibly complex for a community production; there are dozens of quality sound effects, many of which required accurate cuing (Linda Redman) – or deliberately bad timing. The numerous costumes and wigs were most inventive and had their own touch of humour.

The pace of the show travelled like an express train, there were some very quick costume changes and yet the dialogue was still perfectly clear. The cast never faltered.

The lunatic stage manager (Jane Sherwood, a character in this play), as always is faceless thanks to a selection of animal masks; in her mind, she was moving around the set invisibly. This multitasking stage manager, assisted by Callum Calder, was the prompt, loudly correcting any grammatical or pronunciation error that the cast may utter.

The witty team was topped off with the help of two well-known, talented directors assisting in the wings, Johnny Grim and Chris Thomas.

Last year one of the biggest successes of the community theatre was the wacky version of John Buchan’s ‘39 Steps’, seen by thousands. This unusual ‘makeover’ was presented by four local repertory groups to full houses. If you enjoyed the ‘39 Steps’ then you cannot miss this brilliant but ridiculous play, it glows from beginning to end. With the dialogue written like a pantomime on two levels, one straight, with a bit of slapstick for the young and innocent, along with a other bluer interpretation for the adults.

Your smile muscles will be exhausted. Try not to miss this play and it is for all of the family (over 10 yrs).