The Hound of the Baskervilles: A Fun Conan Doyle Comedy-Thriller

Tuesday 19th October 2021 at York Theatre Royal.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

In a comic adaptation as eccentric as it is frenetic, a cast of just three bring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic thriller to the stage. Luckily, the trio are a real treat with their slick comic timing, great physical comedy and that unnameable twinkle in the eye which tells an audience they’re in for some good tongue-in-cheek fun.

This cast take the athletic demands of Steven Canny and John Nicholson’s lively adaptation in their stride and they land their laughs well. Serena Manteghi is a force as Sir Henry and a great many others – impressing throughout as she flits between yokel and Lord of the manor with real gusto. Her characters definitely have that larger-than-life flair to them. Niall Ransome is also a cracking Dr Watson, taking the mild density of mind and sensitive nature of Holmes’ sidekick to their most comic extremes in the name of laughs. We’re rooting for him the whole time, bless him.

If there is a standout here, it’s Jake Ferretti though. His Sherlock Holmes, like Ransome’s Watson, plays to the most comic elements of the character: namely his ego and convoluted approach to, well, everything. But Ferretti also offers a wide range of additional very memorable characters – most thriving on theatrics and the females in particular each having a touch of hysteria running through their veins. Not to mention he also does a wonderful job with the ever ripe comic pickings of quick changes.

Director Tim Jackson (original direction Lotte Wakeham) sets a speedy pace and maintains it well, which is impressive considering the scope of the narrative and the reliance on such a small cast. Lulls are by design and frenetic sequences are delivered with precision. While the adaptation itself does lose something here and there with its emphatic nudging and winking, in general the breaking of the fourth wall function well to unite actors and audience in this joint pursuit of jovial entertainment.

While the comedy flows, we are also never far from reminders that this is a ‘spooky thriller’, and the creative team do well to conjure the eerie moors. David Woodhead’s set offers the Baskerville mansion in the distance, shrouded in ominous surroundings – and all else is mobile as set pieces arrive and depart in quick succession, doing a little shape-shifting along the way for good measure. Andy Graham’s sound design provides near-constant, often comic illustration of our settings, while Derek Anderson’s lighting (helped in turn by copious fog) captures those ominous spaces well – as well as promptly furnishing tone shifts with bold visual cues.

With such liveliness and sincere commitment to fun and pace, I’d have liked to see more young people in the audience here – this is just the kind of show to see while a love of theatre is budding. It isn’t just about making theatre a welcoming evening away from the stilted madness of a pandemic, it’s about celebrating what theatre can do when a talented cast is given a tall challenge, and that challenge is met with oodles of energy and charm. Recommended!

The Hound of the Baskervilles is a production of the Original Theatre Company and Octagon Theatre Bolton. It plays York Theatre Royal until October 23rd and you can find your tickets here.

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