You don’t need an actual hellhound or a bucket of phosphorus to stage the Peepolykus version of Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles – the rib-tickling spoof, full of the company’s trademark verbal and visual ingenuity, seen on national tour and in the West End. But, as co-adapter, Steven Canny explains, there’s plenty of scope for horses, dogs, elephants and a large plastic lobster…
Our version of The Hound of the Baskervilles started out on its feet and has kept on dashing about ever since. To explain: before we wrote a word we worked with the brilliant company Peepolykus: improvising, trying, messing up, trying again, improvising some more, putting on silly wigs, getting stuck, and debating where the humour lay. Then, as we wrote some words down we tried them out again. The director of the original production, Orla O’Loughlin, likes to do read-throughs by getting the actors to stand or walk around the stage, and that means that you can immediately see the potential for the stage pictures, visual plotting of the action and areas for comic opportunity. This is a great way for John [Nicholson] and I to work as writers because we like action – in the past we’ve tried to write things where people talk about clever things a lot but we soon discovered our limitations. So instead we have our characters doing things. And it became clear that this production of The Hound of the Baskervilles would involve a great deal of dashing about, trying to keep up, not quite changing costumes in time and narrowly missing impact with parts of the set.
In fact, if you’re thinking about doing a production it might be worth asking your actors to run 800m or so before an audition. This will tell you nothing about their acting ability but at least you’ll know if they’re likely to keel over on you on the first day of rehearsals. Alongside this, they’ll also need to be excited by the prospect of conjuring up steamrooms, a train, horses, dogs, elephants and a haunting. They’ll also have to really love lightning quick costume changes. When we made the first production for West Yorkshire Playhouse we rehearsed in the room where they store all the props. So you can blame them for some of the worst excesses that appear in the script. At one point a large plastic lobster played a large part in one of the key scenes!
Most of all, and this sounds dangerously like an evangelist’s sermon, we hope that you approach any production with the sense of joyfulness that we approached that original production. It was a huge adventure. We spent ages thinking of the silliest things we could and then the actors found ways of playing them on stage. So, alongside the running shoes, please issue a sense of fun and a general willingness to have a go. That should see you through.
“With its cast of three male performers taking on a variety of roles, this is a great play for groups with three talented (and physically fit!) actors looking for a challenge. This play will have your audience rolling in the aisles with laughter. If you would like a copy of the playscript on approval (free for up to 30 days, at the end of which the script can either be bought, or returned to us in mint condition) email me at email@example.com.”