Perhaps it is something to do with all that misty marshland out at the Eastern extremes of our region. This is the place where many tales are still told of Black Shuck, the great canine beast that strikes terror into those lost in the mire after dark. Blythburgh church has big scratches on the door said to be by Shuck, drooling for a bite of pious human flesh.
The many tales of the big black dog were almost certainly known to Arthur Conan Doyle when he created the famous tale of the Hound of the Baskervilles. Now director Mark Finbow has updated the yarn with a neat little three-hander production from the Seagull Rep company, based at the Seagull Theatre in Pakefield.
I felt rather wistful returning to the scene of my own early attempts at theatrical stardom. Sadly I forgot the single line I had one night in a production of ‘Mac the Knife’ and decided that the stage was not really for me. But it is good to see this small community theatre thriving, with a boisterous young audience enjoying this show.
The three cast members are all female but between them Henri Merriam, Charlotte McGuinness and Helen Vine play every role in this well known drama. Even the dog. They have gelled well as a cast and in a show that depends on some very slick timing they are clearly in tune with each other. Each actor brings a wide range of skills to their many roles, all three are distinctive and engaging.
In the currently fashionable manner there are snatches of dialogue where the actors break out from their characterisations and talk directly to the audience. This device is fun, but needs to be used sparingly. A stage full of props and wardrobe rails means that everything is to hand for their quick changes of costume and role, sometimes working through a dizzying number of characters in one scene. The work also draws on a range of theatrical techniques including shadow puppetry, singing and dancing (a little) and defining character by distinctive accents (a lot).
In this complex show there was some evidence of first night nerves as one or two lines got jumbled and the occasional prop did not work as intended, but this did not detract from a very funny and fast paced ripping yarn of treachery and death, with a surprising dollop of sex thrown in to motivate the mischievous.
The soundscape created to set the atmosphere does the job, but on occasions was a bit too loud and sometimes I struggled to pick out the diction from the myriad sounds of the Grimpen Mire and on reflection I have yet to meet a real mire with excessive echo. Occasionally the complexity of the presentation overwhelms the narrative, a few less bells and whistles could help to build the tension and enhance the drama.
Overall this is a hugely enjoyable retelling of a well known story, which brings humour and humanity to the rather bleak original tale. The three actors are all busy throughout this show, creating a charming and diverse set of characters balancing rustic oddity with urban sophistication. It is a versatile production that could work just as well in a village hall as in a more formal venue and it engages the audience attention from start to finish. If you want a joyful break from the realities of life for a couple of hours take the time to catch this happy show when it comes your way.
Hound of the Baskervilles is on tour now including a visit to The Garage in Norwich on 9th October.
Full details from seagull rep.co.uk
© Julian Swainson 2019