After a couple of forays into more serious territory with Into The Night and The Red, Original Theatre Company online (in conjunction with Bolton Octagon) has opted to release something rather more light hearted for Easter. The Hound Of The Baskervilles, based on the famous story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, adapted by Steven Canny and John Nicholson was originally performed by physical comedy experts Peepolykus. Recently it has been revived for a tour and this is a recording of a live performance given a couple of months ago. The piece opts for farcical comedy rather than the usual horror based approach. Surprisingly, it is actually quite a faithful recreation of the original plot in which Holmes and Watson set out to discover the truth behind the ghostly apparition on Dartmoor and secure the existence of Sir Henry Baskerville whose life (not to mention his entire wardrobe) is threatened.
The tale is an oddity in the Conan Doyle canon in that Holmes himself disappears from the action for a prolonged period. Here it matters little as it means Jake Ferretti, who makes a robust super sleuth, can also take on a series of other roles which are distinguished one from another by a procession of increasingly silly costumes, hair pieces and accents. I particularly enjoyed the rich Costa Rican tones of Cecile Stapleton, one of two female roles Ferretti takes on. It is, of course, elementary (Watson) therefore, that Serena Manteghi confines herself to a series of male characters, the pick of which are her two – or is it three? – sack carrying local yokels who raise some of the best laughs in the piece. Manteghi may claim that she can’t do a Canadian accent but clearly has funny bones and is adept at finding the fun in the situations. Largely confining himself to the character of Dr Watson, Niall Ransome has more of a straight man role and contains the over exuberance of the other pair that, at times, threatens to derail proceedings; it’s a trope borrowed from those other physical comedy supremos Spymonkey – or perhaps it’s the other way round. Whatever, the whole thing rattles along at a fearsome pace which if it doesn’t quite come across via a screen must have been huge fun in a live situation. This is nowhere more true than in the highlight of the show which is an extremely quickfire recap of Act One played at breakneck speed as the opener to Act Two; consummate skill and split second timing is gloriously on display for a madcap five minutes.
There’s some inventive direction from Tim Jackson (based on Lotte Wakeham’s original) as even the stage furniture doubles and trebles furiously – one piece becomes Holmes’ desk, a hansom cab, a train carriage and a fireplace. A series of Baskerville portraits is cunningly executed with just a picture frame. Further ingenuity occurs in the lighting and sound departments (Derek Anderson and Andy Graham) such that there’s no need for physical representations of creaking doors and windswept moors. A particularly good running gag where various characters start to sink into the boggy recesses of Grimpen Mire hit the spot every time and highlights the performers physical comedy skills as do the use of a couple of dummies which get their own bow in the curtain call. There’s also a plethora of fourth wall breaking moments as heightened iterations of the actors comment on their own performances – perhaps my musings are, therefore, superfluous.
A tongue in cheek literary adaptation with just three performers specialising in a good deal of physical comedy, quick change routines and mime, places it in much the same camp as The Thirty Nine Steps and Jeeves And Wooster in “Perfect Nonsense”. Like these, it is a good deal of fun but don’t necessarily expect anything startlingly original about the concept; just sit back and admire the skill with which it is executed. If you’re a Conan Doyle purist you’ll probably want to give this a wide berth but if you enjoy a good chuckle and admire theatrical dexterity you’ll probably love it.