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Stage Dragon: The Hound Of The Baskervilles, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Published on: 9 Jun, 2021
Updated on: 9 Jun, 2021

By Ferenc Hepp

Theatre is back in Guildford and I was delighted to attend the Yvonne Arnaud’s first production following the easing of restrictions.

The set up felt very safe and welcoming, with front of house staff taking turns to hold up the QR code to scan in, offering hand sanitiser, and being available to assist all the way to your seat with a reduced capacity to aid social distancing.

Stefan Bednarczyk in Siobhan Basset’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. Photography by Craig Fuller.

Even the seats which are not in use have white bows on them rather than signs warning patrons not to sit there, which is so much friendlier.

Siobhan Basset’s The Hound of the Baskervilles is Yvonne Arnaud’s own production, directed by Joanna Read, who is also the theatre’s director.

This is its first self-produced show for a number of years, with the exception of pantomime, therefore very fitting to present this as the opening show following such a turbulent time for the theatre over the past 15 months.

However, this is a very different production from what you would expect from a murder mystery.

The Hound of the Baskervilles was originally a crime novel written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle featuring the famous duo of Sherlock Holmes and his companion, Dr Watson, originally published in 1902. This is a two-hander involving a husband and wife team of Siobhan Basset (Sara Crowe) and Michael Basset (Stefan Bednarczyk) written by Crowe and presented as if the couple attempted to write a summary of the novel during lockdown with the proviso that they may not have any sound, lighting, set or even an audience.

They play all the characters between them, although as Siobhan is the trained actress, described on one of the slides as having a playing age of 16 to 49 and a voice which is ‘quietly surprising’, takes on the majority, including the protagonist of Dr Watson, as Michael has enough to do providing all the sound effects, some more successfully than others.

Sara Crowe in Siobhan Basset’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. Photography by Craig Fuller.

Crowe and Bednarczyk portray a very convincing married couple with great chemistry and we do feel for Mr Basset when all he wants to do is to play his composition of Dartmoor Rhapsody on the piano at some point in order to accompany their masterpiece before the automatic blackout happens.

They are unable to play all the roles in some of the scenes, so this is when the ‘Brechtian Cushion’ takes centre stage (literally) and other characters are represented by placing a hat or a dog collar onto this cushion.

The comedy is not just verbal, but very much physical and slapstick too. Think of a mixture of The Play That Goes Wrong, a Ray Cooney farce and Showstopper! The Improvised Musical, and you arrive at the style and the humour of this piece.

Both actors come across very naturally, as if they are struggling to get through the plot with props which don’t work and lines which are forgotten. But do not be fooled, this is very difficult to achieve to the level these two have, with some great writing by Crowe, hard work by both throughout to get across the humour of the piece, clever direction by Joanna Read, and perfect comedy timing.

It is understandable that some people are still rather hesitant to get back to the theatre environment at the moment, but this production certainly deserves a bigger audience and in the words of Siobhan Basset herself: “I trust the eloquent artistry of my adaptation speaks for itself”. It certainly does.

The Hound of the Baskervilles runs until Saturday, June 12, and tickets are available via www.yvonne-arnaud.co.uk.

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