Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery @ The Pavilion Theatre

Verdict: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5 (reviewed 17 November)

By jove! This year we’ve had not one but at least two outstanding productions of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles on both sides of the Sydney divide. Earlier this year Genesian Theatre’s production adapted by Steven Canny and John Nicholson turned the classic completely on its head, with female casting in the lead roles. This week we had the pleasure of reviewing Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery at The Pavilion Theatre adapted by Ken Ludwig, another comedic playwright with a penchant for the absurd. It seems wherever this story goes, a great deal of inverted humour trails along with it, and it’s not hard to see why; this is Doyle’s most supernatural and convoluted plotline out of the Sherlock Holmes series, with more red herrings than John West can can.

Ludwig establishes the facts early: Holmes and his sidekick Doctor Watson are greeted by a late night visitor entreating them to solve the mystery of the sudden death of Sir Charles Baskerville, a wealthy, elderly man who suffered a heart attack in his garden, supposedly after being chased by a giant, grisly hound. He’s not the first Baskerville to meet such a gruesome death from a hound that has haunted the family for several generations. Time is of the essence with the arrival of the next heir in line, Henry Baskerville, all the way from Texas USA (an alternative to Doyle’s Canadian version). Holmes delegates his good doctor to travel to the Baskerville estate with Henry to investigate if the legend of the hound indeed caused Sir Charles’ death, or if foul play is to blame, with plenty of shady sideline characters to give them clues and suspects.

Unlike the Canny and Nicholson version, this interpretation sticks to gender-specific roles with a linear narrative. The meta-storytelling is more subtle, but still peppered with comedic shots at the stuffiness of Doyle’s writing (such as the maid, rolling her eyes at the men in the living room in a stance of anti-work defiance: “Oh! You want ME to bring the tea?! Really?!“) The emphasis is on slapstick and physical comedy with plenty of tumbles and mishaps in rehearsals that made it through to the final cut. There is a feeling of irreverent improvisation which the audience on opening night absolutely loved. The laugher was uproarious, often drowning out the actors’ lines. During the interval many affirmed how much they were enjoying the play (“a gift bag full of surprises”).

This production is the first directorial role for Jason Spindlow, a star actor with Castle Hill Players at The Pavilion Theatre, a tight-knit community of actors, players, creatives and volunteers who make each and every production a labour of love. From the moment the curtain opens we are always spellbound by The Players’ creative vision.

The stagecraft for Baskerville perfectly matches the moody atmosphere described in Doyle’s book, with generous puffs of smoke denoting fog, steam engines and all the spooky things. A backdrop of projected images of various interiors and exteriors creates the context for the cold and damp English environment (and not just ordinary stock images, mind you, but images with flickers of movement such as blades of grass shimmering in the breeze or a train station gradually being left behind). The actors blend in and work with the movement in these images, creating a life force that becomes just as meaningful and humorous as the dialogue itself (when the actors push against the thrashing wind yelling that they “just want to find to a woman”, the audience absolutely loses it).

The cast of five become a cast of 40, much like the miracle of Jesus and his loaves of bread. Josiah Lucas, Jono Burt and Lana Jean Hill take on a multitude of roles, each having a distinctive comedic mannerism; the Texan in particular played by Burt is a brilliant stereotype to throw in the mix amongst the fusty English folk; he is rarely seen without a gun in his hand and laments randomly “is there nothin’ to shoot aroun’ here?” Hill is hilarious as ever after her turn in The Vibrator Play at Pavilion; like a mighty mouse she gnaws through the ropes of servitude that binds her characters. Lucas is handsome, deft and modest in his comedic portrayals, never demanding the spotlight or attention be on him, but somehow earning it anyway with just a line (or beard).

Peter Pham is preppy Dr John Watson and also projection design extraordinaire, waking his director up at 4am to discuss ideas. David Allsopp is straight faced and composed as Sherlock Holmes, ticking through the facts like a grandfather clock. The smug avuncularity that characterises Holmes’ character is deftly achieved.

Overall, there is plenty to enjoy about this comedy that has done well to tease out the theatrical elements from a busy plot. Like a squeeze box from a bygone era it finds all kinds of absurdist and random notes to play, which the audience thoroughly enjoyed. Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery is a huge win to end the year on, and we look forward to another strong season of productions in 2024 at The Pavilion.

Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery is Playing at The Pavilion Theatre in Castle Hill until 9 December 2023. For tickets and showtimes, go to
Images: Chris Lundie

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