Why Serena is playing only men in farcical overhaul of The Hound Of The Baskervilles

Niall Ransome as Dr Watson, Jake Ferretti as Sherlock Holmes and Serena Manteghi as Henry Baskerville in The Hound Of The Baskervilles, on tour at York Theatre Royal from Tuesday

THE Hound Of The Baskervilles is at loose this Haunted Season at York Theatre Royal, returning Serena Manteghi to the city where she cut her acting teeth.

“I studied [at the University of York] and lived in York for many years and still work there often,” she says, ahead of the October 19 to 23 run. “It’s my spiritual home and I’ve been assured I can now call myself an honorary Yorkshire lass, so I’m very much looking forward to heading back there.”

Although based in London, Serena has spent plenty of time up north this summer, performing in early August in Alexander Wright and Phil Grainger’s Eurydice at Theatre At The Mill, Stillington, and later that month in the Harrogate Theatre community play Our Gate in and around the Wesley Centre, Harrogate.

Now she is part of a fast-moving cast of three in Lotte Wakeham’s production of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most celebrated detective tale as it receives a farcical overhaul, with Serena playing only men in Steven Canny and John Nicholson’s adaptation, first staged by Peepolykus in 2007 with West End success.

The story is as familiar as ever: world-renowned detective Sherlock Holmes and his colleague Dr Watson are asked to unravel the mystery surrounding the untimely death of Sir Charles Baskerville. Amid rumours of a cursed giant hound loose on the moors, they must act fast in order to save the Baskerville family’s last remaining heir.

“Yes, they’re all male characters that I’m playing, but I’ve not really thought about their gender; you just play the character – and I have played men before,” says Serena Manteghi, as she shares a laugh with Niall Ransome. left, and Jake Ferretti

What ensues, however, is an exhilarating collision of farce, ingenious theatrical invention and comic performances to “offer a brand-new twist on the greatest detective story of all time”, in the hands of the multi role-playing Serena, Jake Ferretti’s Sherlock Holmes and Niall Ransome’s Dr Watson.

“I play a whole host of colourful characters, including Sir Charles Baskerville, Dr Mortimer, a helpful London cabbie, three ‘yokels’ (one wise, two less so) and last but not least, the romantic lead (after Dr Watson, of course) and newest Squire of Baskerville Hall, Sir Henry Baskerville,” says Serena, who heads to York after breaking in the Bolton Octagon Theatre and Original Theatre Company production on the road under tour director Tim Jackson following rehearsals in London.

“Yes, they’re all male characters that I’m playing, but I’ve not really thought about their gender; you just play the character – and I have played men before.

“There were male characters in Build A Rocket, Christopher York’s one-woman play I did for the Stephen Joseph Theatre [Scarborough], and I played Rene Magritte in Belt Up Theatre’s Lorca Is Dead [York Theatre Royal, May 2010].

“And there are female characters in this show, played by Jake Ferretti, just as they were played by men when it was created by three wonderful performers [Javier Marzan, John Nicholson and Jason Thorpe]. I predominantly play Sir Henry, in the spirit of that original production.”

Serena Manteghi as LV in The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in 2017. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

One consequence has come from the four weeks of shows so far, demanding more than “Olympian dexterity” from Serena, Jack and Niall. “It’s been quite hard on my voice because I’m having to use a much lower register all the time, so I have to work hard on my warm-ups,” says Serena, who is no stranger to challenging her vocal cords, having played LV, with all her singing voices, in The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice at the SJT in 2017.

Likewise, The Hound Of The Baskervilles, and indeed myriad Sherlock Holmes stories have been stretched in multiple ways. “I think the books are woven so deeply and lovingly into our cultural vocabulary that, growing up in the UK, you feel the infamous Holmes and Watson are just a part of the literary furniture, as it were. Like Father Christmas,” says Serena.

“That said, I absolutely loved the recent BBC adaptations [starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman] and would tune in as soon as they were aired for fear of someone spoiling the mystery.

“I think the diverse versions work because the Holmes and Watson partnership is so iconic; the performers and the audience begin from such a familiar starting point and that means you can take them on a slightly unexpected journey.”

Holmes and Watson are embedded in our cultural psyche as much as Morecambe & Wise, suggests Serena. “They’re loved just as much, and that dynamic is beautifully honoured by Jack and Niall; that joy Holmes and Watson have in each other’s company, which is so apparent in Conan Doyle’s writing,” she says.

“It’s an utter pleasure to perform ,” says Serena Manteghi of Peepolykus duo Steven Canny and John Nicholson’s stage adaptation of The Hound Of The Baskervilles, as she teams up with Jake Ferretti and Niall Ransome

“Any literary die-hard fanatics of Conan Doyle will be pleasantly surprised by our show: it’s a comedy retelling,  written by a well-established comedy partnership in Steven Canny and John Nicholson – we met John when he came to see it in Exeter – and it’s an utter pleasure to perform. You’d be very hard-pressed not to enjoy yourself watching this play.”

Ah, but  is it still scary, Serena? “There are some scares, but it leans heavily on the humour, less so on scariness,” she says. “Every spooky note is buttoned with a gag, but it’s not a send-up. It never mocks the story; it’s more an affectionate take on it.

“Very often, when you have farcical versions of the classics, you have to leave behind the story, but here you do get the whole story, just laden with joy and fun.”

Look out for David Woodhead’s set and costume designs too. “They’re beautiful. That’s another reason to see the show,” says Serena. “The set is just gorgeous to behold, elevated and malleable for multiple uses, and everything we wear is beautifully made.” In other words, no tat, Sherlock!

Original Theatre Company and Octagon Theatre Bolton present The Hound Of The Baskervilles, York Theatre Royal, October 19 to 23, 7.30pm; 2pm, Thursday; 2.30pm, Saturday. Age guidance: eight upwards. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

By Charles Hutchinson

Stephen Joseph Theatre to run the rule over six new plays in autumn season of readings

Sarah Gordon: Her Brontë story The Underdog will open the play-reading season at the SJT

FROM the Brontë sisters to Morris dancing, happiness to self-help, Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre will present a themed season of play readings this autumn.

The six 7.15pm readings by professional actors will take place in front of a socially distanced audience, who can join in a discussion with the writer, director and actors at the end, potentially contributing to each play’s development.

Artistic director Paul Robinson says: “These readings give our audiences a sneak preview of some shows that may go on to have a full production at the SJT. One of our biggest successes in recent years, Christopher York’s Build A Rocket, started out this way.”

Cosmic Collective Theatre company members Joe Feeney and Anna Soden, here pictured performing Heaven’s Gate, will be among the readers for The Underdog

The first reading, Sarah Gordon’s The Underdog on October 7, will be performed by York actors Joe Feeney and Anna Soden, from Cosmic Collective Theatre, Houmi Miura and Monica Sagar. Casts for the other play readings will be announced soon.

Peeling back the legend of the Brontë sisters, The Underdog tells the story of the sibling power dynamics that shaped their uneven rise to fame from The Parsonage at Haworth, West Riding.

“Individual ambition and differing levels of success collide increasingly with the desire for group empowerment – which, let’s face it, is awkward. Especially when you’re the underdog, a.k.a Anne Brontë,” says Sarah, whose play The Edit played the SJT in Spring 2019.

Full of Joy: Adam Hughes contemplates what it means to be happy in his new play

On October 13, in Adam Hughes’s Joy, Joy is a never without a smile and always looks on the bright side of life, but when her son, Ryan, returns home following a messy break-up, she finds herself questioning what it really means to be happy.

In Tapped, Katie Redford’s comedy drama on November 3, three Co-op colleagues attend a failing self-help group in Stapleford, Nottingham. 

Every Tuesday evening, Gavi holds motivational meetings in his garage, hoping to inspire his community, but when only bickering mother and daughter Denise and Jen turn up, clearly he has his work cut out.

Katie Radford: What happens when a self-help group leader needs help himself in Tapped?

Both wounded by tragedy, an Iraqi-Welsh Muslim woman and an ex-soldier, who live in multicultural Canton in Cardiff, find unexpected solace in each other’s company in Rebecca Jade Hammond’s Canton on November 10.

Hammond explores those rare fleeting relationships between two strangers of different backgrounds, living side by side in the same community, and how their interactions can be a catalyst for change.

Rebecca Jade Hammond: Fleeting relationships as a catalyst for change in Canton

In Worldly, on November 17, Jess knows she will survive Armageddon in Rachel Horner’s one-woman show about religion, family and unlearning everything you once knew.

She has done the training and read all the books and already she is planning what to name her pet panda on Paradise Earth. However, Jess realises that with organised religion comes unorganised chaos and not everyone is as faithful as they think they are. 

Rachel Horner: Contemplating Armageddon, religion, family and unlearning everything you once knew in her play Worldly

Yorkshire actor Chris Chilton’s touching comedy With Bells On! concludes the season on November 24 with its story of salesman Morris, friendships and a passion for Morris dancing.

By day, Morris sells rubber valves but come nighttime, he is the Lord of the Dance, leading an unlikely group of friends on the road to the Morris Ring Regional Dance-Off.

The six readings will take place in the Round, except for Canton, booked instead into the McCarthy auditorium.

Chris Chilton: Morris leads a merry dance in With Bells On!

Tickets for individual play readings cost £5 each at sjt.uk.com/whatson or by calling the box office on 01723 370541,  open Thursdays to Saturdays, 11am to 4pm, for phone calls and in-person bookings.

The SJT has introduced comprehensive measures for the safety and comfort of its audiences and has been awarded the VisitEngland We’re Good To Go industry standard mark, signifying its adherence to Government and public health guidance. For more details, go to: https://www.sjt.uk.com/were_back

Serena Manteghi in Build A Rocket, Christopher York’s debut play that was first aired in a reading at the SJT. Picture: Sam Taylor