Theatre review - The Hound of the Baskervilles, Northern Rep, Manchester

The Hound of the Baskervilles: Nothern Rep, Manchester

The Hound of the Baskervilles: Nothern Rep, Manchester - Credit: Archant

Nothern Rep, the first rep theatre to open in Manchester for 50 years, unleashes their version of Sherlock Holmes mystery The Hound of the Baskervilles – and it’s fantastic, farcical, clever fun.

A grand whodunit: Christopher Brown and Angela Hazeldine as Holmes and Watson in The Hound of the Ba

A grand whodunit: Christopher Brown and Angela Hazeldine as Holmes and Watson in The Hound of the Baskervilles, Northern Rep, Manchester - Credit: Archant

Based in a tiny space in Manchester’s Great Northern Warehouse on Deansgate, the talented cast of two played to a packed house last night – every single one of the 36 seats filled with expectant theatre goers. Not one of us there knew quite what we were expectant of, I think, but we were each one of us prepared to give it a go.

And not one of us, judging by the applause at the end of the show and gales of laughter throughout, left disappointed. Slightly bewildered and a tiny bit befuddled, maybe, but not remotely disappointed.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is one of Conan Doyles most well-known tales of the adventures of Watson and Holmes, set in a lonely hall on the Devon moors, packed with odd characters, any one of whom could be the murderous intent behind the deaths of every Baskerville who sets foot on the moor that runs to their very door. I have to confess however, I haven’t read it and had no idea of quite what takes place or, indeed, whodunit, before I attended the show. I’m still not entirely sure, but it matters not one bit – that’s almost beyond the point of this hilarious, rollicking comedic version of that vintage tale of murder and the paranormal.

To start, the stage measure no more than four metres by six; barely enough room for the two players to perform their together and takes up one corner of the room. The audience is seated, in a motley collection of mis-matched chairs (genius, I love it) on both corners of the stage, effectively ensuring no possibility of exiting stage left, right or centre.

Our two actors - Christopher Brown and Angela Hazeldine – play every part with great panache and brilliant comic timing. Accents are, shall we say, a moveable feast, but the performance is such that we’re not sure whether this is how it’s supposed to be, or simply that Brown shouldn’t attempt anything other than his stage school upper class, positively Wooster-ish accent – although even this slips on occasion, revealing his northern roots with a cheeky flat vowel now and then.

What becomes clear very, very quickly, is that the fourth wall, that invisible barrier between stage and audience that allows us to be absorbed in the story, has been dismantled and discarded. This audience is to be deeply and, on occasion, personally involved in this story. And all to the good, as this results in additional comic moments I suspect even our clever, practiced actors don’t see coming and deal with beautifully.

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With props extending no further than 2D pictures of pipes, candles and boots and the audience taking the role of the Hound (we do a cracking howl, positively blood-curdling) this is a romp of a play that draws audience and actors together in a way I have never experienced before but would love to do again.

The sheer volumes of lines tumbling from our two actors lips become gradually more rapid and less comprehensible as the night progresses, but this, rather than frustrate simply entertains. I did figure out whodunit and why, but I suspect not everybody did and you know, it doesn’t matter.

The story wasn’t the thing you see, it was the telling of it and that was brilliant.

The Hound of the Baskervilles plays until Saturday 16 September. Tickets just £12 each.