Theatre review: The Hound of the Baskervilles

Our theatre reviewer, Hannah Hobson, shares her thoughts on The Hound of the Baskervilles at East Riding Theatre.

Image: Gavin Prest Photography

East Riding Theatre is a space uniquely suited to a spot of gothic mystery. As the mist fills the dark panelled converted church, there is a sense of bated anticipation beneath the vaulted ceiling. This tension holds as Mark Conway takes to the stage, sprinting away from the glowing red eyes of the legendary Hound of the Baskervilles. I wasn’t the only one to jump at the first fearsome snarl of the titular Hound, but then this production slyly pulls the rug out from under its audience and makes us laugh. This is the rollicking, satirical staging of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, which East Riding Theatre brings to Beverley this May.

This is an adaptation of one of the most popular Sherlock Holmes tales, which was written by Steven Canny and John Nicholson in 2007. It is packed with the sort of old-fashioned humour that promises to have the audience howling with laughter (pun intended). In places, it fulfils this promise perfectly. The start of the second act especially is raucously funny. There are a lot of directorial choices from Marieke Audsley, which allow for some excellent visual gags and physical comedy. That said, it’s a slow starting show with a heavy reliance on classic comic conventions which occasionally feel tired.

The cast are doing fantastic work. Mark Conway is undoubtedly the stand-out. His stable of characters – including but not limited to Henry Baskerville, Doctor Mortimer and upwards of three yokels – provide some of the production’s funniest moments. His physicality is excellent and his work with Annie Kirkman could well be the beginning of a legendary comedy double act. Kirkman’s Doctor Watson, is also brilliant, sometimes playing the proverbial straight woman, sometimes expertly drawing out a funny misunderstanding to complement the genius of Mariana Barbera’s Sherlock Holmes.

The third member in this cast, Barbera, has the mammoth task of dozens of costume and character changes to manage, and portrays each character well enough that it never becomes confusing or difficult to follow. Her performance as Miss Stapleton is especially deft. Important to mention, also, that Amy Watt’s costumes are beautiful and a wonderful asset to the production’s storytelling.

Audsley has imbued this production with some excellent stage images and ingenious use of Amy Watt‘s excellent panelled set. There is a whole eerie world being mapped out with a real sense of fun and magic. The movement work could be a touch sharper, there are moments where I am unsure her vision is fully realised. There are plenty of excellent comic turns in the staging, however, to more than make up for any clumsy beats throughout the show. Especially innovative is how Audsley’s direction interacts with Jess Addinall‘s lighting design to create some fantastic visual gags.

While it may be a touch rough around the edges, The Hound of the Baskervilles is a fun and entertaining night at the theatre. It is suitably spooky, funny and engaging as well as being visually playful and comical. It is well worth catching before it closes on Saturday 21 May.

[Hannah Hobson – Theatre reviewer]