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Theatre Review: Hound of the Baskervilles at the Lace Market Theatre

14 December 18 words: Rebecca S. Buck

We got down to Lace Market Theatre to check out The Hound of the Baskervilles...

There were, perhaps, a handful of audience members expecting a rather more faithful enacting of Conan Doyle’s gothic detective masterpiece as we settled into our seats in the intimate Lace Market Theatre. Though how this expectation could have survived the auditorium soundtrack being interrupted by spoken word advertisements for “Rawlinson’s Gentlemen’s Waxing Wax” is hard to say. When the curtains open, on one side of the stage is the door to 221B Baker Street, with the scrawled sign beneath: “Also Baskerville Hall”. Something is afoot, and it’s not a straight-faced drama.

This is a spoof, performed by just three actors: John Parker, Richard Young and Jamie Goodliffe remarkably covering fourteen characters between them, in addition to playing melodramatic versions of their own actor selves. Originally conceived by theatre company Peepolykus in 2006, it is a fast-paced play, still more or less faithful to Conan Doyle’s plot, but played for laughs throughout.

Directed at the Lace Market Theatre by Matthew Huntbach, the witty dialogue and humorous overacting came to the fore. There is something for everyone, from slapstick and mime, to wordplay, and out and out jokes. Plus a badly danced tango. As panto season approaches, some of the most hilarious moments came with the deliberate “mistakes” and out-of-character asides. A film piece showing a “flashback” is worthy of being a comedy short in its own right.

Perhaps the most concentrated spell of hilarity comes immediately after the interval, when the actors perform, in response to a critical tweet, a compressed “recap” of the first act, a kind of madcap greatest hits of the jokes that have gone before. The second half also contains a delightful stream of Victorian insults from Watson, including “beef cheeks” and “rat-faced mountebank.”

If there is a criticism of this performance it is that, with so many quickfire jokes, some of them are bound to miss their mark. Someone in the audience laughed at every joke, but just a few gags got the entire audience laughing. Towards the end of the first half, comic timing seemed to slip and the comically overacted dialogue became a little shouty. If the actors were tiring, it would be understandable, such was the energy they infused into every moment. But they brought it back for the second half, and the tight timing and sharp humour had returned.

A final word must be given to the clever and extraordinary use of props to allow a very simple stage setting to reflect everything from a marshy moor, to a steam train, and a London street.

Recommended for laughs, fun, energy, and for the delightful, witty intellect of this style of comedy theatre. A very enjoyable trip to Dartmoor.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is at the Lace Market Theatre until Saturday 15 December

The Lace Market Theatre website

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