Review: Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of The Baskervilles at the Barn Theatre, Cirencester

The Hound of Baskervilles at Cirencester's Barn Theatre

The Hound of Baskervilles at Cirencester's Barn Theatre - Credit: Archant

If you’re into screwball comedy – or your dog is particularly embarrassingly badly behaved – here are some clues as to why you’ll absolutely love the Hound of The Baskervilles. Go to Cirencester’s Barn Theatre and ‘Sit!’, commands Katie Jarvis

You know how your dog persistently begs, even when you’re eating things like celery? Has the bladder capacity of the Hoover Dam whenever it’s raining? Is perfectly behaved in non-threatening traffic situations, but pulls you in front of any speeding juggernaut on the vague pretext of something cat-like on the other side of the road?

(OK. Look. Maybe this is just Ruby the cocker spaniel, but...)

The point I’m trying to make is that this is nothing, absolutely nothing compared with the severe behavioural issues of the Hound of The Baskervilles. Sir Charles Baskerville has been found dead on his estate – a look of terror on his face that eclipses even Trump receiving post with the return address of Robert Mueller. Beside Sir Charles – and this is very possibly connected – are the paw-prints of a gigantic, massive, humungous hound.

Is it too late to teach this dog the more normal pastimes of ‘sit’, ‘fetch’ and ‘stay’?

My own hunch would have been to call in the Victorian equivalent of Barbara Woodhouse; or (in absolute extremis) Donald Jr and Eric (sorry to keep mentioning) to fashion it into a White House rug.

But, no! On the basis (presumably; I put my hands up here to not having read the book), that the Hound would almost certainly give itself away by, eg, the quality of newspaper it reads or its use of a walking stick, Sherlock Holmes is despatched to investigate.

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And this, dear readers, is where the fun begins. (Actually – thinking about it – it begins slightly before this because we meet Holmes and Watson prior to their journey to the desolate moors.)

Look – we all know how very, very funny the moors (NB Devonshire not Moroccan invaders) intrinsically are. [One of my favourite Simon Mayo true confessions (look away now if you’re at all nice) was when four drunken wanderers found themselves on the moors in the dark, only to discover an old fenced-off mine shaft. Suddenly possessed of an urgent desire to find out how deep it was, they lobbed a couple of stones down and counted. Clearly, these stones were too small to work; so they found a huge rock; manhandled it down the shaft; started to count; wondered what the chain was snaking past them was. And then a goat rushed by, still with a clump of grass in mouth.]

And on that basis, John Nicholson and Steven Canny adapted The Hound of The Baskervilles into one of the most hilarious plays I’ve seen in ages. (Very cross with Candia McKormack, who tweeted that she’d ‘howled’ with laughter. If she hadn’t been so public about it, I could have pinched that line.)

None of the above jokes are in there – didn’t want any spoilers; luckily, the play’s are much funnier anyway.

Oh, well.

Maybe just a couple of spoilers.

Such as when Dr James Mortimer, arriving to ask Holmes to investigate the death of his friend, Sir Charles, is questioned further.

“I don’t want to be drawn,” he replies.

Which is understandable.

“Watson, put your sketchpad away,” Holmes orders.

In fact, many of the jokes don’t break the fourth wall, but demolish it.

Such as when Sir Henry, a Canadian, arrives.

“We were expecting a Canadian accent.”

“Yes. I can’t do one.”

It’s a play that’s been put on before to uproarious success; so what a great comedy to unearth once again – another stroke of brilliance by the Barn Theatre. (Each of their productions has so far offered something completely different: what confidence; what innovation; what fun!) What I can’t believe is that any other production has had a better cast than this current trio of brilliance.

Dominic Brewer is almost-Canadian Sir Henry; Hywel Dowsell is the inappropriate drawer Dr Watson; Herb Cuanalo (can we really believe he only recently graduated from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School?!?) is Holmes. But that’s ignoring the plethora of other, multifarious characters they play along the way.

This might save money in terms of wages; but it adds to the hilarity, franticness (franticity?) of this show. I lost the plot ages before it ended. Some say long before that. But, tbh, the plot is a minor distraction.

It’s wonderful. It’s funny. It’s non-stop.

So this is a command. Walk on to the theatre, fetch a programme. And sit!

The Hound of The Baskervilles is on until November 24 at the Barn Theatre, Beeches Road, Cirencester; 01285 648255;