BWW Review: THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, Jermyn Street Theatre
The Hound of the Baskervilles is a delightful take on the classic Sherlock Holmes story that proves a comic stance on Holmes is sometimes better than a dramatic one. The show is the Jermyn Street Theatre's first co-production with a theatre abroad, having run at the English Theatre Frankfurt over the summer.
The story explores the mysterious death of Sir Charles Baskerville and the supposed curse on his family. A family friend asks Holmes and Watson to protect his heir, Sir Henry Baskerville, who has newly arrived from Canada. They set out to his new estate to discover if Sir Charles truly was killed by a supernatural hound or if it was a more human foe. Add in a couple of eccentric suspects, plus their wives, and you've got a gripping yarn.
The play is clearly based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's story, but was originally adapted by Steven Canny and John Nicholson for Peepolykus. It includes witty dialogue, some slapstick comedy, and overly lofty language.
It's not afraid to poke fun at the Sherlock Holmes tropes, like the pipe, disguises, catch phrase of "Elementary!" or the idea that he's the only intelligent person in the room.
This production, directed by Lotte Wakeham, makes the most of the script. The quicksand gag and a (fairly random) Latin dance sequence are both particularly funny, and supercilious lines like "A fearsome battle between good and evil is about to ensue" are played to large laughs.
The show is well suited to the intimate Jermyn Street Theatre, where the audience is never very far from the action. The fourth wall is often broken in a way that feels almost like a more adult panto. The actors introduce the show in the beginning and break character to send us off to interval, all to hilarious effect.
The beginning of Act II has one of the actors reading out an "audience member tweet" critiquing the show's pace, causing the actors to redo Act I in about five minutes. Meta commentary on the food being fake is equally amusing.
The 14 roles are played by just three actors, who all have wonderful comic timing and lovely chemistry between them, which adds a strangely adorable quality to the romance between Sir Henry and Cecille.
Shaun Chambers portrays Sir Henry Baskerville, alongside a host of others. He is charming as the new aristocrat and lends an impressive distinctiveness to each of his roles. I was impressed with his Scottish accent as Dr. Mortimer and how convincingly he changed his body language to portray an older man.
Max Hutchinson is Sherlock Holmes, the two main suspects, and the two female characters. His Holmes is younger than most portrayals and has an almost nerdy arrogance about him that works well within the show. However, he is perhaps most impressive as Cecille Stapleton, as he manages to find humour in the role beyond being dressed in a period gown.
Simon Kane plays a Watson who almost brings to mind Arthur Weasley from the Harry Potter series: bumbling, well-intentioned, and almost fatherly. He stands in stark contrast to Hutchinson's sharper Holmes.
The relationship between Holmes and Watson in the show - always an integral part of any Sherlock adaption - is quite touching. And there are the requisite jokes hinting at a gay relationship, like Watson contemplating how many kisses he should sign his letter to Holmes with.
However, this is also a Watson in serious need of encouragement from Holmes, he seeks to reassure him of his importance to their quest at every turn. One of the few tender moments in this hilarious play is (spoilers ahead!) near the end when Holmes says, "You know what, Watson? I love you too."
The set, designed by Louie Whitemore, is minimalist, but produces some amazing set-pieces. The stand-up bed is particularly impressive.
Sound designer Andy Graham should also be commended: his sound effects contribute to the humour of the show in a unique way. The use of fog is nicely done, especially in the scene set in the London Steam Room, and the costuming (by David Woodhead) period appropriate.
Sometimes it seems that the last thing the world needs is yet another Sherlock Holmes adaption; however, this charming play proves that a classic Holmes story can still be presented in a fresh and exciting way. With its undeniable humour, talented cast, and splendid design, it's simply a good night of fun and entertainment at the theatre.
Photo Credit: Martin Kaufhold