Review: The Hound of The Baskervilles. Nottingham Theatre Royal

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Adapted for the stage by Steven Canny and John Nicholson for Peepolykus

Directed by Tim Jackson

Original Direction by Lotte Wakeham

Nottingham Theatre Royal – Touring

Wednesday 24th November – Saturday 27th November

If we were watching an episode of ‘Pointless,’ and the question involved naming a novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, then I doubt that The Hound of the Baskervilles would be a ‘pointless answer.’ It is indeed the Victorian writer’s most celebrated tale involving super sleuth Sherlock Holmes. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, there have been innumerable iterations over the years, but none quite like this one.

If you are booking tickets for the show expecting a traditional slice of Victorian gothic melodrama, then you may be surprised to learn that this production is a comedy. Furthermore, if you are a Holmes’ aficionado, you will know that the original source has a cornucopia of characters and sundry locations, as we switch between Dartmoor and 221B Baker Street. Incredibly, this version is performed by just three actors who play multiple roles in a winningly fast-paced and often hilarious adaptation.

Holmes (Jake Ferretti) and Watson (Niall Ransome) have been called upon by Dr. Charles Mortimer (Serena Manteghi) to investigate mysterious happenings at Baskerville Hall. Sir Charles Baskerville has been found dead, apparently of a heart attack, but rumours abound of a diabolical hound that stalks the moor intent on killing off the Baskervilles. Did Sir Charles really die of natural causes or are there evil supernatural influences at play? As we are later told, ‘The night falls quickly on the moor.’

Enter Sir Henry Baskerville (Manteghi), fresh from Canada, and off to claim his ancestral seat. Accompanied by Watson, this intrepid duo travels to Baskerville Hall, leaving Holmes behind in London. Murder, mayhem, and mania ensue in a maelstrom of theatrical invention and ingenuity. This is farce at top speed; rapid costume changes, manoeuvring of props, plus countless exits and entrances. The cast is to be congratulated on their adept handling of all these intricate aspects.

The set design is both creative and resourceful. As I take my seat, I see a starkly beautiful backdrop showing the moors, a full moon and Baskerville Hall, suffused with an eerie blue light. I spend the time waiting for the show to begin exploring all its facets, the gothic manor, the lonely moor, and the Spartan tree branches. It subversively sets the tone for Victorian melodrama, which is immediately upended by the entrance of Manteghi, at this point in the guise of Sir Charles Baskerville. She is a gifted physical comic, whether miming, gurning, or later sinking into the depths of the treacherous Grimpen Mire. From this point on, we know that the laughs will keep coming.

Ferretti and Ransome make a very pleasing Holmes and Watson. The latter provides a good foil to the more outlandish Holmes. I love his self-doubt, his eagerness to please and his ‘crush’ on Sir Henry. Ferretti ably captures Holmes’ authority and arrogance, but also furnishes him with more puerile tendencies. Under no circumstances would I dare refer to him as ‘the second highest expert in Europe.’

Props are used in enterprising ways to signal changes of location; a desk becomes a steam room, a Hansom cab and then a railway carriage in the blink of an eye. The pastiche on the train is one of my highlights as we see a loving homage to the era of silent movies. This is one production where lighting, sound, and design dovetail together seamlessly, whether it be the howling of the ‘spectral hound,’ the signalling of a flashlight or the clever use of an upright bed (which is frankly priceless.)  Watch out too for a splendidly funny tango, complete with glitterball and bubbles.

Stapleton, the naturalist, tells the audience that Baskerville Hall is ‘a queer place, but never dull.’ Overall, I think that is a fitting summation of this ingenious production itself.

Running time:  1 hour 50 minutes (plus 20-minute interval)  

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