Esalan Gates enjoys Suffragette Theatre Company’s comedic production of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’.

Entertaining and full of energy, Suffragette Theatre Company put a decidedly comedic spin on the beloved characters of Holmes and Watson. While the plot is complicated and the lines fairly wordy, this play offers moments of hilariously slapstick humour amongst the murder mystery of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Emma Williams and Soufiane Taleb’s production is heart-warming and fun, maintaining the audience’s investment through the actors’ comically exaggerated characterisations of such a well-worn cast.

The play is visually defined by the largely monochromatic colour scheme of the costume, until the entrance of Abbah Kel Jackson’s Henry Baskerville who sports a blood-red tie. The colour red is everywhere; the room divider, the photographs of blood spatters taped to the cyclorama, even the jam jar on the table for the pre-set is noticeably crimson. It helps that the colours of Josephine Butler are red and yellow, and the effect is striking given the otherwise monochromatic colour scheme. Aside from the photographs of blood spatters, there are fun and imaginative newspaper articles taped up, not only on the cyclorama, but on the backs of audience members’ chairs, inviting a closer look at the creative names of both the articles and the newspapers themselves (‘Baker Street Daily’, ‘Scotland Yard Post’, ‘Daily Detective’). There are also print-outs of abstract works of art taped up, which do seem out of place in a play supposedly set in the late 19thcentury. Classical music plays during the pre-set and the interval, a great choice for an adaptation of a Sherlock Holmes story, given that the famous literary figure is known for playing the violin.

The relationship between Kamil Hepak’s Holmes and Hannah Newman’s Watson is charming; Newman’s characterisation is childlike (her obsession with her pad and pen is increasingly endearing) and a distinctly less seasoned detective than Hepak’s Holmes, who behaves in a brotherly fashion towards her, poking fun while remaining staunchly protective. Jackson’s Baskerville is a direct contrast to the hyperactive energy of both Hepak and Newman, and his conveyance of the wealth and ease of Baskerville is palpable. Jackson is also the most able performer in overcoming the difficult acoustics of the performance space, as the slow pace he sets himself as a character imbued in luxury allows the audience to follow him more easily, although Hepak’s lines are certainly lengthier and more complex. Both Hepak and Jackson carry off tremendously loud and extensive laughs by themselves, catching the audience up with them instantly.

Shaun Rowland’s James Mortimer is affable and truly believable as he wanders the stage with a cane that is slightly too short for him searching for his terrier, and for the first half of his initial conversation with Hepak it does seem as though the two are flirting, which is a fun and refreshing addition. Sean Alcock’s Stapleton is bemusing, appearing first onstage with a pink net, flirting with Newman, before he turns out to be far more sinister; Alcock and Jackson’s passionate fight carries more emotional weight than even the gun fight at the later climax of the play.

Certainly, Jake Saunders steals the show somewhat with his brief appearances as Frankland and The Cabman; his immense energy promises instant comedy and he delivers absolutely with both characters. It is Saunders who bizarrely complicates the treatment of Newman’s Watson as a ‘gentleman’ in a distinctly modern skirt in the 19thcentury; perhaps the biggest audience laugh was in response to Saunders calling Newman ‘sir’ before coughing and correcting to an uncertain ‘madam?’

The hound is defined by a fantastic sound effect at the opening of the play, creating a distinctly ominous atmosphere as the sound of frantic breathing accompanies the howl. This is later mimicked to great effect by the ensemble of actors miming the story that Rowland’s Mortimer relates as they discover the body of Lord Baskerville. Some of the lighting cues were perhaps not so well-executed, but the creative use of colour at tense moments was very effective. The flood of blue that filled the stage for any scene on the moor was striking in its conveyance of the supernatural implications of moonlight, inviting the audience to consider the possibility of the hound’s ghostly qualities.

The Hound of the Baskervilles was hilarious, the cast’s comic timing and use of slapstick physicality and facial expression being the definite highlight of the evening. From the literal placing of Alcock’s head in a frame to mimic a portrait, to the dismissive discarding of Hepak’s otherwise-pointless blanket upon the moor, these constant moments of comic relief were surprising and thoroughly enjoyable amidst what is a fairly fast-paced, dialogue-heavy play.