The West End Whingers don’t normally do first nights.
They deplore the hoards of screaming devotees who clutch at them as they dismount their carriage, desperately hoping for a miracle.
And then there are the paparazzi who – desperate for exclusive pictures which will guarantee a bidding war from the redtops – flash in their faces.
Worst of all are the assorted hacks from the dailies who persist in peering over the Whingers’ shoulders to crib from their notes. That de Jongh’s the worst.
It all makes for a very trying experience.
But last night – heavily disguised to blend in with the Edwardian theme – they were whisked through a side door into the Duchess Theatre just as the lights dimmed for the first night of The Hound of the Baskervilles.
The producers had begged them to attend. In fact the producers had begged a lot of people indeed to turn up through the process of giving away mountains of free tickets.
The Hound of the Baskervilles is of course based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s conveniently out-of-copyright 1902 novel about Sherlock Holmes, Dr Watson and a big dog. This version originated at The West Yorkshire Playhouse and is staged by Steven Canny and a company called Peepolykus (people like us – geddit? The Whingers don’t as thankfully there are no people like the Whingers).
This interpretation is a three-hander spoof in The 39 Steps manner but without sufficient inventiveness to carry the sixth-form send-up much further than the first five minutes (which were actually rather promising). It’s the kind of thing that might have appeared as a sketch in the Russ Abbott Show and the presence of Bella Emberg would surely have enhanced this production.
That’s no reflection on the performers; Javier Marzan, John Nicholson, Jason Thorpe put great zest into the various roles. Basque actor Marzan knows his comic (Spanish) onions and is particularly good as Holmes. The idea of playing literature’s most English detective with a thick Spanish accent is inspired, but – like all of the conceits in this show – it’s just not enough to sustain interest for the 2 hours and 10 minutes. Some of the jokes are merely puerile such as the flashing in the Turkish baths scene.
By the interval, the Whingers felt they had got the joke (again) and tried to retire to the bar which is no easy job in a filled-to-capacity Duchess Theatre (fortunately this is something the Duchess rarely has to worry about).
Exposed once again to the madd(en)ing crowds, Andrew timorously sipped his interval tincture, desolately knowing that the moment he put it down an admirer would filch the lipstick encrusted vessel to flog on ebay. The fans were onto him, even camouflaged in a suitably late-Victorian bustle and keeping his head down beneath his overdonemillinery, people seemed to be staring at him. How could they know? The public are so dashed clever these days.
Relieved to be back under the cover of darkness for the second act the Whingers were treated to more of the same (and some of it again).
We did wonder if perhaps we have been seeing too much arty stuff of late such as this and this and whether it has turned us into snobs. After all, lots of other people in the audience seemed to be having a great time ( although many of them were actually connected with the show and not being very discreet about it). If the concept of being the only sober ones at a party were known to the Whingers, then surely this is how it would feel.
The kindest thing we can find to say really is that our mothers might like it which is a great relief to Phil who has lately been worrying that he might be turning into his.