The Hound of the Baskervilles, Bath Theatre Royal

THE best known, and most oft adapted for stage, screen, radio and TV, of all Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, there would be few members of any audience who would not know the story of The Hound of the Baskervilles. And that knowledge is certain to add to the fun of watching Steven Canny and John Nicholson’s tongue in cheek adaptation, designed for just three actors, of this gothic tale full of murderous intent.

All the usual ingredients and characters in the story are there, swept in and out of the action, always with an eye on humour, at speed by the three players, sometimes playing more than one character in the same scene.  To sustain this style of comedy for just over two hours requires teamwork of the highest standard, teamwork which, even after hours of rehearsal, needs to be honed before live audiences until the three actors, like a well-whipped soufflé, are completely integrated.

During the pre-Christmas tour, Jake Ferretti (Sherlock Holmes), Niall Ransome (Dr Watson) and Serena Manteghi (Sir Henry Baskerville), who between them also play the many other characters, had formed such a partnership. It was therefore a severe blow when, on arrival at Bath, Jake Ferretti’s illness forced an almost complete change around of personnel. Niall Ransome moving over into the role of Sherlock Holmes, newcomer Fred Gray inheriting his role of Dr Watson, leaving Serena Manteghi to readjust to two new playing partners.

As you would expect from three seasoned professionals, there was no question of slow or missed cues, or poor reactions to any comic business or dialogue. But it takes time for this sort of partnership to bed down, and some of the comedy timing in the first act was not quite razor-sharp enough to gain maximum effect. At least those were my thoughts, but my companion, who has never read or seen any Sherlock Holmes stories on screen or TV, was intrigued from the start, laughing where I only smiled, awaiting the start of Act 2 with eager anticipation.

And neither she or I was to be disappointed in the second act. Whoever gave the halftime talk, and whatever was in the interval drinks, worked a treat, because the trio hit the boards running after the interval. We start Act 2 with Niall Ransome reading an alleged note from a member of the audience complaining that he had spoilt Act 1 by his slow playing. He demands a replay and so they play out a potted version of that first Act at triple speed. Without a single missed cue or dropped line they tore through the replay gathering laugh after laugh on the way, leaving the audience as breathless at the end as they were.
Although there is already plenty to enjoy in the work of Niall Ransome, Serena Manteghi and Fred Gray, there is no doubting that this production will gain in stature as this trio get more and more used to each other’s style. If the last date on their tour was not so far away, His Majesty’s Aberdeen, I would be tempted to catch up with this enjoyable production again and discover how  much easier the trio was in extracting fun and games from this decidedly humorous version of Conan Doyle’s classic tale, produced by the Original Theatre Company and Octagon Theatre , Bolton.


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