HA HA HOLMES!
AND THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES
Jamie Wilson Productions
at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford
Hot on the heels of Ha Ha Hamlet and Ha Ha Hitler, Ha Ha Holmes, an irreverent and gloriously silly look at Sir Arthur's greatest hit.
It's been reworked to accommodate the unique talents of Joe Pasquale, who effortlessly assumes the role of the "sleuth detective".
It's the kind of show which has a warm-up before the lights go down. Ben Langley, author, director and a mean Sherlock in his time, is first up, joined by Andrew Fettes, who plays all the other parts, from Moriarty to Fanny Stapleton. And then by Pasquale, master of the stand-up throwaway line. They mercilessly rib the punters as they drift in … "Peggy Mitchell" … "J R Hartley". And they are upfront and honest about this first night of a gruelling tour that will take them from Yeovil up to Glasgow and back to Plymouth. "None of us know what we're doing … we're flying by the seat of our pants …" They're not entirely kidding either – there are some sticky moments, some soggy moments. But the audience are happy to play along, make allowances, and join the cast in a happy collaboration. Just before they don the deerstalkers and the Inverness capes, and whip the dust sheets off the furniture, they offer some advice: "Lower your standards!".
Seated stage right is Andy Pickering at the keyboard, ready to provide silent movie music, accompaniment for the songs, and the odd bit of acting.
It all feels a little like a poor man's panto, with an audience song, and "volunteers" brought on to form a Neanderthal erection, or ride the stage coach – an inspired sequence, this, using the bookcase and the stairs to make the coach, with someone in row E holding the reins, someone else blowing the horn, the whole audience singing along and builder, biker, cowboy and Indian riding behind. Another priceless routine had Fettes frantically miming the story as Langley told it.
It's quickfire, frenetic, over-the-top stuff, not always best served by Pasquale's laid-back style. He's really at his best playing himself, bumbling engagingly through the routines, looking to the audience for support and sympathy. Sometimes difficult to hear, too, what with the meerschaum, the microphone, and a delivery which recalls the late Sir Patrick Moore.
The setting is versatile and stylish – the moving staircase, the piano/reception desk, the Aga microwave. Yes, we actually see the three of them prepare and eat a meal. And in what other show could you see a man transformed into a hound, and then murder a Lionel Ritchie number as he stumbles down that impressive flight of stairs. Not to mention inflating a rubber glove on his head using only his nostrils. Worth the price of admission alone, I'd say …
Next in the canon, in case you were wondering, Ha Ha Hood in 2014.this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews