The Great Northern, Manchester; Wednesday 9th August, 2017
There is a special class of fictional detective out there: an out-of-touch metropolitan elite club made up of very posh and very, very annoying super nosey interfering twats. In this club you will find the likes of the frankly ridiculous Monsieur Hercule Poirot with his stupid little moustache and walking stick; also that ghastly woman Jessica Fletcher from Murder She Wrote sticking her nose into everyone’s business; and of course there has to be the poshest and most annoying know-it-all of them all – Sherlock Holmes from Apartment 221b of what are now some posh flats in central London.
Annoying as they all are, Sherlock Holmes is mildly tolerable for one reason alone: the literary masterpiece that is Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles. Doyle tapped in to a primordial fear that no human being has immunity to: no matter how tough you think you are, you’ll still be shit-scared if you ever come across a bloodthirsty hound in the middle of the night.
Manchester’s very own Northern Rep Theatre take on Doyle’s terrifying mystery of the dog in the night and turn it into an outrageous comical adventure with major lols and rofls. Using a tiny room in the huge Great Northern Warehouse, the “performance” starts before the show has even officially begun: the audience arrives to be met at the door by Holmes and Watson – both already in character and both immediately sticking their elementary noses into everyone’s business by trying to guess by the powers of deduction what everyone does for a living. And so intimate and cosy is this venue that it turns out that Holmes and Watson are perfectly capable of working behind the bar too, no need for bar staff when the actors can do the job themselves.
When the action starts it’s fast and furious, the plot unfurls at lightning pace. It is truly an impressive sight to see the entire show being performed by just two actors, each playing what seem to be dozens of different roles with some cunning use of accents helping to differentiate between the numerous characters. Those not familiar with the story might struggle to keep up with the pace of delivery, but there’s always a cheeky joke just around the corner to keep a smile on everyone’s faces.
With a performance space measuring no more than ten square metres and no special lighting or sound effects (that would be a lot to ask of two people, in addition to performing the show and running the bar), this is theatre stripped bare, but it works well. The use of comedy props is excellent, and there are even some “clues” that are left in plain sight before being cleverly bought into the performance. And best of all is the audience participation – it fell to one lucky “volunteer” to play the role of the bloodthirsty hound itself, generating the biggest lol of the night.
As an evening’s entertainment, this is a real treat. Considering you could pay a similar amount of money to go next door and sit in front of a cinema screen for a couple of hours, Northern Rep have produced a super-small-scale performance that delivers big-time entertainment.