Ben Owen

I first saw Steven Canny and John Nicholson’s farcical adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles at the Jermyn Street Theatre in London two years ago, and I left that production with a grin I couldn’t shake. Equally persistent, I found as time went on, was the notion I had to bring the play to Cambridge, and specifically to Corpus. 

I am a huge fan of detective fiction - particularly of the Conan Doyle canon - and I am usually a purist about it. It annoys me, for example, that the curvy calabash pipe we associate with Sherlock Holmes is not the kind he smokes in the books, but was made popular by Sidney Paget's illustrations. It might be surprising, then, that I have bought so wholeheartedly into an adaptation which is so liberal with almost every aspect of the original novel. Of course, when a play makes you laugh so hard your sides hurt, you forgive it for pretty much anything.

This is my first time directing comedy, and I think it takes a kind of confidence (which I’m still not sure I have) to trust that what you’re creating will make people laugh. Luckily, I haven’t needed to worry, because the cast are genuinely hilarious and they have taken to their roles wonderfully. It has been a pleasure to work collaboratively with a team full of ideas for ways to bring even more humour to an already amusing script, and it has made rehearsals frequently chaotic but always fun, and always fruitful. In fact, some of the moments I now most enjoy are ad-libbed, and my favourite part is a bit I didn’t direct; many thanks to Harry Burke for choreographing a scene I dare not spoil by explaining.

“The goal has been to have fun with a script that clearly doesn't take itself seriously, and we hope the audience will share in that spirit.”

There’s a lot going on in The Hound of the Baskervilles, and much of it is utterly insane. There are three cast members playing seventeen characters, and juggling copious props; Sophie Scott mostly holds the play together as Watson, as well as lending herself to a lovely exchange between local yokels, while Joseph Folley and Benjamin Gibson each take on seven roles, with manic costume changes and stark shifts in accent. We've had to work hard to ensure the madness isn't so relentless that it becomes exhausting; the show has something of the ‘play that goes wrong’ attitude - it is aware of its own implausibility (and occasional impossibility) and, being a farce, it embraces caricature and ridiculousness. 

The audience must, therefore, think of this play as having its tongue firmly in its cheek. The goal, for us, has been to have fun with a script that clearly doesn't take itself seriously, and we hope the audience will share in that spirit. That said, we've put a lot of effort into creating the best show we can and pushing the technical limits of our venue (as well as the vocal limits of our actors). It may be a bold aspiration, but we want to bring something to Corpus that the theatre won't have seen before.

I love the Corpus Playroom, but I can see why it’s a kind of marmite theatre; the intimacy can be a challenge as well as an opportunity, and it’s obviously difficult to stage anything for a L-shaped audience. With this play, we have realised, it’s also difficult to stage anything with so many different entrances and exits, and so many essential prop and costume changes, in a theatre without wings. However, I still feel that if this production succeeds it will be because we have worked within the confines of Corpus, not in spite of it. While we may not be able to heed stage directions like ‘fireplace flies in’ without any rafters, we hope the show retains some surprise.


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Mountain View

What’s on this Michaelmas?

The Hound of the Baskervilles is a farce to be reckoned with; it takes the audience on a bewildering journey from Baker Street to Dartmoor, with plenty of mystery and mishap along the way. The game is afoot, and we hope that audiences will come and join us in it. Most importantly, though, we hope they leave us with smiles as wide as mine was in Jermyn Street.

The Hound of the Baskervilles will be showing at the Corpus Playroom at 7pm, Tuesday 5th to Saturday 9th November.

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