Castle Hill Players: Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery
I've only ever seen one pantomime, and well, it tried. I liked some of the jokes in the first few scenes, but as it went on, the punchlines overstayed their welcome and just dragged on. This, I'm sure, is not a reflection on any and all pantos. That's the thing with comedy; timing and execution are everything, particularly when you're working with such broad strokes. Not every production can be as hilarious as the "Gone Wrong" shows, which leverage camp silliness with expert timing and physicality. Fortunately for me and everyone in what appeared to be the sell-out opening night, Castle Hill Players' production of Baskerville is nothing like my one and only panto experience.
I won't lie; when the curtain pulled back, and I saw the set, I was a bit confused. If you've read any other reviews I've done for CHP, you'll know one of my favorite things about this company is the sets. Elaborate set pieces that create depth and intricacies, but with two doors, a riser, and a chair, I didn't know what to expect. Baskerville is truly a display that, while the set is there to help tell a story, it's the actors who make it real. Director Jason Spindlow has done a truly wonderful job of pulling this show together. It's so tight and so funny. Every single element, from the change from projection to utilizing colored lighting in dramatic moments, to the choice of farcical props, to the small moments of characters breaking the fourth wall, Spindlow has worked with his team to make sure the punchlines hit, and the joke never overstays its welcome. Every element of the performance was brilliant, and any hint of apprehension was lost as I relaxed into what was one of the funniest shows I've ever seen. Spindlow should be proud of his work and his team.
In normal reviews, after talking about the show and its direction/technical aspects, I talk about the actors. Not this time. I'm breaking convention because I can't talk about the actors without talking about the stage crew, led by Rod Bishop. This is a small ensemble show with two people playing Holmes and Watson and three actors playing LITERALLY EVERYONE ELSE. I think that at times, the costume changes were so fast they broke a land speed record. I also know from years of being in theatre that this is only possible with a good stage crew ready and prepared. The actors shone on stage and will rightfully get their sentences in this review, but in a show like this, it's the stage crew's work, often unnoticed, that makes someone say, "How did they get changed so quickly?" (actual quote from a fellow theatre-goer).
The anchor of the show is Peter Phan as Dr. John Watson, playing the character like I've never seen him before. Watson is normally the everyman, a war hero or a confident doctor. Phan, however, is delightfully hapless, and his physical comedy is wonderful. Phan had great chemistry with everyone on stage and was an excellent narrator. His chemistry was best opposite his Holmes, David Allsopp. Allsopp is impressive with his dominating presence, charm, and gleeful physicality, providing a sense of whimsy in a character that is infamously serious, at least until recent changes in copyright. While Phan and Allsopp are amazing, the MVPs of this production are the trio of Josiah Lucas, Jonathon Burt, and Lana Jean Hill, who between them played 38 characters. Their skills as actors were on full display. Each one managed to create fully realized characters and use their voices and physicality to transform without once getting them confused. For each one, I had favorites, but honestly, I don't want to spoil anything. This quintet is phenomenal, and I really suggest you get along to see them.
I've read and seen a lot of Sherlock Holmes in my life, and this will probably be my favorite for a long time. Baskerville is tight, hilarious, and a fantastic night out. I give this production 4.75 seconds to fit a wig out of 5. Photos courtesy of Chris Lundie