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The Hound of the Baskervilles

The Hound of the Baskervilles

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

4 - 7 February 2015

James Firth-Haydon

Adapted by Steven Canny and John Nicholson for Peepolykus

Presented by the older members of the youth group


Performances

Wed 7:45pm, Thu 7:45pm, Sat 7:45pm

Synopsis

When Sir Charles Baskerville is found dead on is estate, with a look of terror on his face, and the paw prints of a gigantic hound beside his body, the great detective Sherlock Holmes is summoned from Baker Street with Dr Watson in tow, to unravel the mysteries surrounding his death, and investigate the ancient curse of the House of the Baskervilles...

Written for a cast of three, who play multiple roles, this version premiered at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2007, where it broke box-office records before touring nationally and transferring to the West End.

A wonderful barking spoof!

Review

This hilarious adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic gothic novel, directed by the Youth Theatre’s James Firth-Haydon, appears as number four on the list of play publisher Nick Hern’s 10 most performed plays of 2013. There have been many adaptations of Sherlock Holmes most famous adventure, but this one by Stephen Canny and John Nicholson for the highly successful Peepolykus Theatre Company melds their trademark inventive physical theatre and verbal comedy while cleverly retaining an ironic respect for the original. It doesn’t feel like a send-up but like an affectionate and deliciously funny tribute to the gothic detective genre.

The play is performed by three actors taking multiple parts who come in and out of character at times, addressing the audience and each other. This ‘breaking of the fourth wall’ is a theatrical device that audiences love to be part of, and the first night crowd at Lewes Theatre appreciated and entered into the spirit and the style of the piece.

The material looks and sounds improvised as would have been the case when the writers developed the original Peepolykus production. The trick of this genre is to make it feel fresh and as though the audience has stumbled across a delicious accident.

Three older members of the Youth Theatre - Owen Daughtery as Sherlock Holmes (and Stapleton, Cecile, Mr and Mrs Barrymore and Yokel 3), Dan Hardwick as Watson (and Yokel 1), and Rupert Flowers as Sir Charles Baskerville, (and Sir Henry Baskerville, Mortimer, Cabbie, Yokel 2, Wise Yokel) pulled it off with aplomb. Well cast and directed by James Firth-Haydon they confidently threw their individual brands of comic ability into the pot. Working together tirelessly they accessed the style of the piece well. Picking up cues, retaining a strong hold on the overall structure, and being able to react moment to moment with crucial madcap speed and imaginative input is the key to this vaudevillian style. James and his cast had clearly worked very hard on the physical and textual elements needed to pull this off.

Owen Daughtery clearly relished the chance to explore the spikey and neurotic part of Holmes. Having seen Owen in rather straight-laced parts before it was great to see him developing his acting range and imagination so successfully. The catalogue of eccentrics he conjured up for the small parts was inventively tongue in cheek.

Dan Hardwick brought a really nice weight, warmth and twinkle in the eye humour to Watson - the innocent abroad. As an actor he was adept at flagging up the comic moments for the audience. This part acts as an engine for much of the action and he never dropped concentration, keeping the balls up in the air with strong commitment.

Rupert Flowers was very funny. As a performer he is really arresting with a unique mix of droll sophistication and vulnerability. If he is anything like his stage persona I would not be surprised to see him turning up on a panel show like Never Mind the Buzzcocks in years to come. Wandering round the stage in various states of undress he added a puckish element to the trio of actors.

In an evening full of funny moments and set pieces a couple stand out. The train journey made by Watson and Sir Henry Baskerville to Dartmoor and the breakneck speed potted rerun of the whole of the first half at the beginning of Act 2. A really clever theatrical device by the writers and pulled off well by the cast. However, the piece is really so packed with inventive humour that I found myself with a grin on my face for the duration.

Not only does the Youth Theatre provide an opportunity to develop acting talent and interests in drama it also enables young people with an interest in the wider aspects of theatre to learn their craft. Young theatre members Charlie Pope and Cameron Wallis have been assisting Lighting and Sound Designer Mike Batchelor with his work. The night I saw it they ran the show and were, seemingly, cue perfect. This was impressive in a show that relies heavily on those technical elements to punctuate the comedy and to create suspense.

It would be nice to think that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have appreciated the inventive fun that both the performers and audience experienced in this adaptation rather than being startled by it. This was a very funny and affectionate take on one of the great classics of English Literature. It was a good choice by the Youth Theatre affording the cast a perfect showcase for their developing talents.

Lucie Fitchett