Monday, 2 March 2009

CATCHING UP: “The Hound of the Baskervilles”/”Hate Mail”

Frequent readers will be unsurprised by the revelation that I’m quite fond of the pub theatre. These spaces are often quirky, intimate, and friendly, and it’s almost always nice to pay one a visit.

Pentameters, in Hampstead, have been putting on plays since the late 1960’s, and have occupied the same space since the 1970’s. And the space is absolutely wonderful: funky architecture, chairs with mismatched cushions, hand drawn fliers and art, the place exudes a DIY charm that makes me wonder why I’ve never been before, but surely makes me want to come back. *ahem* But on to the play: one of many adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Hound begins not immediately as the book does, but rather with the book’s place in the Holmesian canon, pointing out that Holmes is recently deceased after his battle with Moriarty in Switzerland and briefly covering how the great detective met with our narrator, Dr. Watson. From there the script is rather straightforward as one would expect, hitting the high points in a brief 90 minutes plus interval.

Despite it being years since I’ve read the book and forgetting many of the details I was able to follow the play easily. The acting was generally solid, and the staging decent if not quite as tight as it should be: scene changes involve the actors playing the Barrymores (Sir Henry Baskerville’s staff) removing a tarp from a set of furniture, meticulously folding it, and then setting the furniture into place. The problem comes from Watson, often standing on the other side of the stage, waiting to begin his transitional narration until the folding patterns are completed, which looks rather silly to the audience.

Otherwise? It was nice - the sort of thing which you can precede or follow up with a cup of tea and the newspaper.

Hate Mail at Above the Stag, on the other hand, isn’t nice - as the title implies. Nor is something behind the scenes either, as the play was shut down and recast, reopening later this week.

The play itself is an epistolary, a form I’ve learned to loathe after seeing Crocodile of my Heart, a collection of letters between Chekhov and his lover at the Akadamietheater in Vienna. In expository theatre two (or more) people sit down and read (usually letters) at each other for the duration of the play. There is little blocking and virtually no direct interaction between the characters, rather some bemused looks from one or the other while their words are being read. In short, it’s a very dull and lazy form of theatre and one I wouldn’t ever spend money seeing. Fortunately, my tickets were free.

It’s fortunate as well that Hate Mail, which tracks the interactions between the children of two adult friends through to adulthood has a half-decent script with some funny ha-ha moments, but nothing that’s funny ho-ho or uproarious. It manages to passingly keep the attention but not command it, and warrants little else. I’d talk about the cast, Sarah Whitlock and Hugh Futcher, but both were fired from the production (perhaps because neither could pull off a convincing American accent or read without mangling their lines the night I went.) The two have been replaced by Bryan Hands as snot and mud loving boy Dan and London drag standard Bette Rinse as the wealthy gone bust Penelope. I’ve no plans to revisit the show, so here’s hoping they outdo their predecessors.

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