Pros: Side-splitting comedy with a spine-tingling twist: thrilling.
Cons: Some scenes seemed to suffer from a lack of rehearsal.
As a big Sherlock Holmes fan I headed to the Jack Studio Theatre with great enthusiasm, to find out that I was in for a treat. This production of The Hound of the Baskervilles, in fact, is not only the gripping account of an uncanny murder and its unravelling by the astute detective. It is also the exhilarating behind the scenes depiction of how the play itself is staged.
With all the characters embodied by a cast of three, the action starts with the spine-tingling death of Sir Charles Baskerville (Andrew Fitch), soon followed by the arrival of Sherlock Holmes (Joey Bartram) and Doctor Watson (Adam Elliott). Addressing the audience directly, the pair breaks the ice by explaining that there is no need to be frightened, since this is not reality but just a stage version of the famous mystery tale in which Holmes and Watson must save the life of the last Baskerville heir, Sir Henry (also played by Andrew Fitch).
There follow two hours of ill-timed lines, hasty costume changes and clumsy set turn-arounds that create some truly brilliant comedy moments. For the three actors, the play is a tour de force whose ever-increasing pace requires serious stamina. Most of the set is mounted on wheels and they are continuously required to push a door, pull a fireplace, place a chair or handle a prop, whilst repeatedly going on and off stage. Their performances are good and they seem to be having lots of fun, which is reflected in the audience’s enjoyment. Only on a few occasions do I have the impression that their slips are due to a lack of rehearsal rather than a planned incident, but the border between the theatrical and the metatheatrical is so subtle that I decide to go with the flow. I am particularly pleased to see back on stage the versatile Adam Elliot, with another solid delivery after his outstanding performance of Judas in The Gospel According to Philip.
The giddy acting is counterbalanced by imposing sound effects, which become caricatured in their attempt to cause suspense or distress. Michael Edwards’ meticulous lighting design also produces some comic results, as when a tiny spotlight appears over a character’s head in a crucial passage.
Steven Canny and John Nicholson’s adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s masterpiece vividly reminds me of the first time I went to see The Play That Goes Wrong, in the intimate space of the Trafalgar Studio Two. The format of the two shows is similar and the infectious fun transmitted just as well. The choice of subject is excellent and I see strong potential in this Jack Studio Theatre production.
Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Adapted by: Steven Canny and John Nicholson
Director: Kate Bannister
Box Office: 0333 666 3366