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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Hound of the Baskervilles
Duchess Theatre      Spring-Summer 2007

A fringe theatre genre to which I am addicted is the Mock Epic, a cast of two or three taking on a grand project, with the frantic doubling, trouble with props and cues, and gap between their supposed ambition and accomplishment being central to the joke.

The trio called Peepolykus ('People Like Us') ranks just below the National Theatre of Brent as masters of this comic genre, and this anarchic deconstruction of Conan Doyle, which has been touring, offers the West End a rare and welcome taste of the fun.

And fun it is, though perhaps not quite as consistently and relentlessly fast-paced as true lovers of the genre might prefer.

Javier Marzan, John Nicholson and Jason Thorpe play, respectively, Holmes, Watson, Baskerville and - at various times and occasionally simultaneously - Everyone Else, including, in fourth-wall-breaking moments, themselves.

So, for example, at one point Marzan must wrestle his way in and out of costumes and beards in a losing attempt to play Holmes, the butler and the butler's wife in the same scene; and later interrupt the action to react to a note passed to him backstage complaining that the audience can't understand his accent.

Thorpe gets death threats both as Baskerville and as himself, and Nicholson's frustration as the dim-witted Watson is mirrored in his attempts to keep his fellow actors to the script.

High points include a steam room scene that gets a bit too intimate for Watson, an erotic tango (Don't ask), and an Act Two opening that races through all of Act One in about two minutes.

But, as I said, the genre is an unforgiving one that demands a constantly high level of energy and invention, and this show has a few too many slow stretches and lapses in invention to be fully satisfying.

Coincidentally, in a feast-or-famine way, there's another representative of the genre currently in the West End, in the form of The Thirty-Nine Steps (by Patrick Barlow of the National Theatre of Brent).

If you can only see one, I'd recommend that one. If you're as big a fan of the genre as I am, then even an imperfect Baskervilles will be a delight.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of The Hound Of The Baskervilles - Duchess Theatre 2007
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