When watching an adaptation of a classic, there’s always a little trepidation: will they capture the essence of what made the original so popular, while also injecting enough fresh ideas to keep a new audience excited? Within the first five minutes of Original Theatre Company and Octagon Theatre Bolton’s production of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, any concerns were out of my mind.
Despite the seriousness of the plot – Sherlock Holmes investigating a family curse that sees heirs to the Baskerville estate meet an untimely end – this is a brilliantly witty play. Steven Canny and John Nicholson’s adaptation sees all the parts played by just three actors; not an issue if you’re performing Three Men in a Boat, but for this performance, with multiple characters and scenarios, it adds a deliciously chaotic layer to the show. Demonstrating the kind of chaos reminiscent of The Play that Goes Wrong or One Man, Two Guvnors, it shows the real skill required to enact a play teetering on the edge of disaster.
It’s a joy to watch the cast work together, and there’s never any doubt that the show is in safe hands with Jack Ferretti, Serena Manteghi and Niall Ransome. This is never truer than at the start of the second half: after a tweet was sent in the interval criticising Ferretti’s performance he decides that they need to re-do the first half for us. What follows is a hilarious fast-forwarded version of the action we’ve just seen. How they manage to do this without falling over, bursting into laughter, or forgetting what’s happening is a miracle. The comic timing of the whole cast is spot on, with wonderful moments when they break the fourth wall.
The slickness and ingenuity of the play continues within the set, as Holmes’ table turns into a spa, before seamlessly turning into a train carriage. Combining simple, yet clever, props and the confidence of the cast, the locations are never in doubt. An empty picture frame becomes a window in Baskerville Hall that Sir Henry and Watson must climb through, before later becoming portraits of the Baskerville family. Sound and lighting effects make the ferocious hound terrifyingly real, while the train journey from London to the Moors is a hilarious silent movie spoof.
Having been filmed in front of a live audience, this performance was here watched online; streamed on demand thanks to Original Theatre Online, which emerged in 2020. Rather than put a camera at the foot of the stage and hope for the best, the show has been beautifully filmed, meaning that the two-hour event was just as engaging on a laptop as it would be in person. At times, the cast talk directly into the camera, which works surprisingly well: there’s a real sense of ensuring the audience at home are just as involved with the unfolding story. We’re even told to pick the loudest snacks we can find. The quality of the recording is impeccably high, and it’s a joy to watch. For anyone unable to get to live theatre, or not yet feeling confident enough to do so, this production ensures you get as good an experience as possible from the comfort of your own home.
Written by: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Adapted by Steven Canny and John Nicholson
Directed by: Tim Jackson (UK Tour Director) Lotte Wakeham (Original Direction)
Produced by: Tom Hackney, Original Theatre Company and Octagon Theatre Bolton
Available on demand until 31 July 2022. Further information and bookings here.