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Why Sherlock Holmes play Baskerville at Hong Kong’s Fringe Club will make you laugh a lot

Five actors play 35 characters in Ken Ludwig’s farcical adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles, starring Ivan Idzik, Warren Adams, Davina Lee Carrete, Jacqueline Gourlay Grant and Hamish Campbell

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 October, 2017, 6:31pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 October, 2017, 7:06pm

Sherlock Holmes made his first appearance in print in 1887 and is still going strong 130 years later.

In just the last decade, the Sherlock television series starring Benedict Cumberbatch, two films starring Robert Downey Jr, and the Elementary television series in which Jonny Lee Miller plays the detective have all been produced.

There is a tongue-in-cheek element to most recent interpretations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s drug-addicted forensic genius. A play called Baskerville, however, takes him into out-and-out farce, and is now getting its Hong Kong premiere courtesy of Candice Moore’s Sweet and Sour Productions.

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Opening on October 18 at the Fringe Club’s Underground Theatre, this comedy by Ken Ludwig promises to take Sweet and Sour Productions into new dramatic territory.

“It’s very different from what I’ve done before,” says director and founder Moore, who has previously directed dramas such as The Elephant Song, Venus in Fur and Doubt. “It’s based on The Hound of the Baskervilles, but it’s a comedy. It’s a classic tale but done differently. Slapstick, farce, mystery – it’s got everything.”

Published in 1901 and narrated in the voice of Holmes’s almost equally famous sidekick, Dr John Watson, The Hound of the Baskervilles is probably the best known of the Sherlock Holmes novels, although there are comparably famous short stories.

Much of the action takes place on Dartmoor, a vast area of moorland in southwest England, where Sir Henry Baskerville, who has an estate there, is believed to be in imminent danger from a hellhound summoned by an ancient curse.

The story has been adapted many times for stage, screen and radio, but generally with a larger cast.

“You’ve got five actors: one playing Holmes, one playing Watson and the three others who between them play 35 characters.” Moore explains. “We’ve got a good cast, some of whom I hadn’t worked with before, including Ivan Idzik who plays Holmes, and Davina Lee Carrete who plays seven characters – all male, which adds to the comedic value.”

Idzik describes Holmes as “a large, iconic” character. The challenge of the role, he says, is “to ensure that he does not come across as arrogant and pompous but as a character with depth and humanity.”

The play isn’t all about the sleuth though. “It’s Watson who takes us on the journey,” Moore says. “Holmes isn’t on the whole time.”

Warren Adams, who plays Dr Watson, takes the modern view that the doctor is a more nuanced individual than the slightly slow-witted character most dramatisations have traditionally opted for.

“Dr Watson is determined to excel and succeed on his quest,” Adams says. “When given the opportunity by Holmes to take the lead, he thrives and gives his all to get to the bottom of the case. He’s passionate, dedicated and compassionate, but has little patience for time wasters.”

Playing Watson, he adds, is an enjoyable experience. “He is the voice of the show and provides necessary information and insight into the proceedings. Holmes has the X factor, but ultimately without Watson by his side he’d be very lost.”

While Adams and Idzik have the luxury of being able to get into their characters’ skins, the other three cast members have to worry more about the frenetic pace of changing wigs, costumes and voices for their multiple roles.

“Theatre has always been filled with doubling and tripling, but Baskerville has us playing dozens of characters,” says Jacqueline Gourlay Grant, who plays 14 roles. “It is like being on fast-forward in a cerebral merry-go-round.”

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Among Gourlay Grant’s parts is a third regular character from Conan Doyle’s books, the London landlady Mrs Hudson, and the major female characters living around Dartmoor. Davina Lee Carrete’s roles include Sir Henry Baskerville, recast as a full-on Texan.

“There’s mystery and intrigue, but it’s also laugh-out-loud funny,” Moore says.

Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, Sweet and Sour Productions, Fringe Club Underground Theatre, October 18 to 27, 7.30pm (October 21, also at 2.30pm) and October 28, 6pm. Tickets: HK$240 and HK$290. Inquiries: 9131 3387