Friday, November 02, 2012


Cut to the Chase at the Queen's Theatre Hornchurch

It worked for The 39 Steps. It worked, in this very same house, for Travels With My Aunt. And now it's the turn of Sherlockdeerstalker, meerschaum, magnifying glass and allas he solves the mystery of The Hound of the Baskervilles.

This three-man adaptation, a "comedy thriller", retains all the key elements of Conan Doyle's story - hound, moors, family seat, Great Grimpen mireand cheerfully twists them and sends them up something rotten.
Some might see the influence of Pirandello and Brecht, others panto and Little Britain. Whatever, the result is often excruciatingly funny, with surreal silliness and slapstick galore.

The stage is a spool of film, with old prints projected as a back drop. There is also a movable door, and lots of smoke. Underscoring the silent movie feel, an upright piano stage right, Puccini and Prokofiev pressed into service, played with style and sensitivity by Steven Markwick, who also gives us his coarse yokel.

All the other parts, though, are played by the talented trio of Simon Jessop, who is Watson throughout, Greg Last, who is Baskerville, a cabby, and the butt of many cruel jibes, and Jonathan Markwood, Holmes, both the Stapletons, and, in a glorious Pythonesque moment, a hermit in a post box. They all three embrace the slightly desperate style the piece demands, slipping in and out of character, battling gamely against all odds to keep the show on the road. Jessop makes a bluff, often painfully dim sidekick, Markwood a suave Holmes in the Brett mould, and also enjoys hamming it up as the totally bonkers baddie brother and sister/husband and wife. Last's relative inexperience is played upon, but his performance is in many ways the funniest of the three, as he bumbles through the perilous plot.

Necessity, in this genre, is the mother of invention and improvisation. Amongst many ingenious pieces of inspiration: the train carriage sequence [loved the luggage rack], the cab ride, the mire, the Turkish Bath and the ancestor portraits.

It is a bold move to stop the action a minute or so in for health and safety reasons, and then pick up again after some desultory banter and in-jokes. Even bolder, goaded by a critical interval Tweet, to recap the whole first act at a gallop before embarking on the second. Brilliantly done, piling on the pace, one of the best things in a constantly amusing show.

production photo: Nobby Clark

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

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