On a dark moor, in the middle of the night, a man is creeping through the fog. Surrounded by faint and creepy noises, he opens a creaking gate and steps through. A low growling stops him in his tracks. The growling turns to snarling, then a chilling howl sends him staggering backwards as he sees – what? We don’t get to find out, as the show is suddenly stopped so that the company manager can warn the audience that those of a nervous disposition or suffering from certain ailments may want to leave as the production apparently reaches high levels of theatrical tension. Jo Fletcher-Cross was among those brave souls who remained to see what happened at first night of The Hound Of The Baskervilles at the Duchess…
The Hound Of The Baskervilles is one of the most well-known and well-loved of Arthur Conan Doyle’s mysteries. A crowd pleaser because of its combination of murder mystery and ghost story, it has been adapted many times – as a play, a cartoon, a radio drama, even as a Hammer Horror. This version, by zany physical comedy company Peepolykus and Steven Canny, is a little bit different. For a start, the cast of three – Javier Marzan, John Nicholson and Jason Thorpe – play over 20 characters (not including the gigantic hound), and Sherlock Holmes is a Spaniard. A Spaniard with a pipe and deerstalker, but still not the Holmes one has come to expect.
This quirky piece of casting is typical of the show’s amusing oddities. After the interval, an upset Marzan refuses to start the second half, making Thorpe read out a letter in which 103 patrons in the stalls have reportedly complained that “they can’t understand a word the Dago is saying”. To make sure that we are all following what is going on, despite his thick Iberian accent, he insists on running the entire first half again, albeit at breakneck speed.
This isn’t the only time they move quickly. Character changes take place in a flash, trousers disappear and we move from steam room to steam train to Dartmoor in the blink of an eye. The energetic performances are funny, and give the whole production a sweet, almost childish playfulness that keeps the momentum going throughout.
Although this isn’t a serious version of the tale, it remains surprisingly faithful to the book, exploring the mystery of the cursed Baskerville family deeply enough to satisfy any Holmes purists who might be watching. The traditionalists may be a little shocked at the casting, but they can’t argue with the storytelling. The denouement comes around all too quickly, after some impressively comical dancing and not a few red herrings, with the mystery solved by Holmes and his trusty – and loving – sidekick Watson.
This is an affectionate and endearing look at a popular story, which should please both fans of the original text, and those who like their chilling mysteries to have a few laughs included.