REVIEW: Original Theatre’s The Time Machine, York Theatre Royal, ends today ***

Be prepared to be amazed by time travel: Dave Hearn, left, and a shocked Michael Dylan and Amy Revelle in Original Theatre’s The Time Machine. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Original Theatre in The Time Machine, York Theatre Royal, today at 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

SORRY, there isn’t much time left. Either for CharlesHutchPress to write this review after a truly madly deeply busy week spent in the darkness of theatres and gig venues. Or for you to read it or see The Time Machine before it leaves town forever.

Oh, for a time machine to have made time e    x    p    a     n    d.  Anyway, no time to delay. This is “father of science fiction” H G Wells’s The Time Machine. Or rather it is and it isn’t.

It is based loosely – clinging by its finger nails, more like – on Wells’s 1895 debut full-length sci-fi novel, the one where the Time Traveller invents a device for travelling through time on a journey to the year 802,701.

Herbert George Wells, by the way, used his time well, so well that he wrote more than 50 novels and dozens of short stories, while his non-fiction output took in works of social commentary, politics, history, science, satire, biography and autobiography.

Ah, but he didn’t write The Time Machine, A Comedy, instead the madcap work of Steven Canny, once associate director of Complicite, and John Nicholson, artistic director of Peepolykus, fellow specialists in absurdist, absurdly funny comedies.

In a compressed nutshell, three actors run a theatre company that’s trying to put on a production of The Time Machine, but with fairly limited success. “Limited” in the sense that Hearn, Amy Revelle and Michael Dylan keep veering wildly  from Wells’s intention to travel to the end of the Earth’s life to reflect on our own.

A big event happens that causes the play to spiral out of control as Hearn’s character, also called Dave, discovers actual time travel. Spoiler alert.

Everything stops for tea but not for long for Amy Revelle and Dave Hearn in The Time Machine. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Like in Hearn’s exploits for Mischief Theatre for the past decade, comedy rules all in the desire to get to the end, no matter what mishaps, detours, distractions befall the performance, within the structure of a play within a play, where the actors’ own world permeates the text.

In this case, Hearn is playing Dave Wells, HG’s assertive, egotistical great-great grandson, who wants to tell HG’s sci-fi tale, and is in such a hurry to do so, he is wearing tracksuit trousers and trainers.

But then so too are Amy, the “sensible” one who just wants to sing Cher songs at every opportunity, and Irishman Michael, a lovable science geek who’s having something of a meltdown day. Science fiction meets science friction as they are always on the cusp of falling out.

A door (vital to all farces), a chaise longue, dapper Victorian costumes, a theatrical knife prop, sounds off stage and repetition, repetition, repetition, all add to the fun and games.

“This is a show that laughs in the face of despair and insists on shining light in gloomy times,” says director Orla O’Laughlin (who even has a ‘laugh’ in her surname).

It does do exactly that, while also finding room for audience participation (on and off stage), show tunes, a mischievous nod to Derren Brown, explorations of the fourth dimension, and the “science bit” as Hearn turns into a boffin lecturer. Heck, sometimes, even HG’s story strives to get back on track amid the madness and the mayhem, as all’s Wells that ends well.

This is ‘metatheatre’, to use a pretentious word, but it is often ‘megatheatre’ too, judging by the excited reaction of the matinee school party in the dress circle.

Time and space is running out. What are you waiting for? Why are you still reading this? There’s no time like the present to see The Time Machine. Now.

All’s Wells that ends well for Mischief maker Dave Hearn in The Time Machine travels

Having the time of his life: Dave Hearn, centre, in The Time Machine, with comedy compadres Michael Dylan and Amy Revelle. All pictures: Manuel Harlan

DAVE Hearn, co-founder of those clever clowns in calamitous theatre Mischief Theatre, is spending time away from his comedic cohorts to go travelling through the country in The Time Machine.

From March 14 to 18, his time travels will bring him to York Theatre Royal in Peepolykus duo John Nicholson and Steven Canny’s re-visit of H G Wells’s epic sci-fi story for Original Theatre.

“It’s a play about three actors who run a theatre company and are trying to put on a production of The Time Machine, with fairly limited success,” says Hearn of this “comic version like no other you’ve seen” as Wells’s storyline travels to the end of the earth’s life to reflect on our own.

“But then a big event happens that causes the play to spiral out of control and my character [Dave] discovers actual time travel.”

Doorway to time travel: Dave Hearn on tour in The Time Machine

Billed as an “out of this world, fast paced, wise-cracking comedy where science fiction and science fact collide and extraordinary, mind-boggling things can happen”, how does Orla O’Laughlin’s production contrast with such Mischief-making capers as The Play That Goes Wrong, The Comedy About A Bank Robbery and Magic Goes Wrong.

“In some ways it’s similar, though I’d say it’s less reliant on big set pieces and more focused on the relationships between the characters. And I think it’s possibly more intellectually challenging, in the nicest way! The writers have done a brilliant job.”

Hearn is not an H G Wells aficionado, but he is a science fiction fan in general. “I read the entire Dune trilogy, which took me the best part of my life, but it’s mind-blowing stuff,” he says. “I think the play does a great job of making Wells’s story accessible, even to those without knowledge of the source material.”

Hearn is playing Dave, H G Wells’s great-great-grandson, in Nicholson and Canny’s version. “He’s very excited to be presenting a production of The Time Machine. He’s quite assured of his own writing gifts, and really wants to prove himself in this regard, even when it’s not completely appropriate. I quite respect him for that in many ways.”

Making his point: Dave Hearn shocks Michael Dylan and Amy Revelle in The Time Machine

Should you be wondering, Dave was not named after him. “I originally auditioned for one of the other parts. I remember reading it and thinking I did an OK job, but felt intuitively that I’d be a better Dave,” Hearn says. “Eventually they asked me to read for Dave, and then everything made a lot more sense.”

Hearn began performing in his schooldays. “I did GCSE drama because – believe it or not – I was a very shy young man, and decided doing drama might help boost my confidence. I got an A* and then, after a spell doing odd jobs, decided to go to Harlow College and do a BTEC in performing arts,” he recalls.

“I always really enjoyed it, though I think I was quite arrogant as well. I genuinely thought I was a great actor, and I remember talking to my mum about going to drama school like it was completely my choice.”

To enable him to do the drama foundation course at LAMDA, his parents sold their house and car. “I don’t think I realised at the time just what a show of faith that was. They were so supportive,” he says.

Everything stops for tea: Amy Revelle and Dave Hearn take a breather in The Time Machine

LAMDA (the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art) was to be the meeting place for the Mischief makers, Henry Shields, Henry Lewis and Jonathan Sayer, and regular performer Hearn, who hit the jackpot with The Play That Goes Wrong.

“That was around five or six years after we formed Mischief [in 2008]. We didn’t pay ourselves during that period, we just kept making sure we had enough to do Edinburgh every year. Then around 2012 we decided we would write a Christmas show, The Murder Before Christmas at the Old Red Lion,” he says.

“We performed it at 9.30pm each night and had to store the set on the roof under a tarpaulin, because there was no space. It was woefully unsafe, but we kept going and after we finished the run the artistic director asked us to come back a few weeks later because another show had cancelled. That show became The Play That Goes Wrong.”

On his shoulder: Dave Hearn, behind Michael Dylan, every step of the way in this scene from The Time Machine

Hearn went on to enjoy a decade of success with Mischief and foresees a return to the fold, but he was ready to spread his wings. “It felt like a big decision for me not to go to Broadway with Peter Pan Goes Wrong. There were some personal reasons for that, but I’d wanted for a while to step away from Mischief,” he reveals.

“I could feel the beginnings of resentment creeping in, because I felt like I had to be loyal to the company. Nobody put that on me, that was all from me, but it felt right to step away. I’m enjoying being in a room with other people again. With Mischief the work is always very collaborative, but it’s actually quite nice just being told where to stand.”

One last question: if Hearn had a real time machine, where would he travel? “I’d love to go to the future, and see what cool gadgets they have,” he says. “Maybe I could go to the year 3,000, and see if Busted were right.”

Original Theatre’s The Time Machine travels to York Theatre Royal from March 14 to 18, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. Warning: May contain show tunes.

Copyright of The Press, York

Dave Hearn in the role of Dave, H G Wells’s great-great-grandson in Original Theatre’s The Time Machine

REVIEW: The Hound Of The Baskervilles, Original Theatre Company/Bolton Octagon Theatre, at York Theatre Royal, until 23/10

Double act: Niall Ransome’s Dr Watson and Jake Ferretti’s Sherlock Holmes shake up The Hound Of The Baskervilles

MYSTERY and murk have abounded in York Theatre Royal’s hit and mist Haunted Season.

That mist descends once more, over a desolate Dartmoor of spectral trees and a grand house, looming in the distance, where the lights seem to twitch nervously. Except, this time, the foggy haze is emanating from Sir Charles Baskerville’s newly lit cigar in the country air, his face matching the contentment of a bygone Hamlet advert.

A bewhiskered, elegantly dressed Serena Manteghi has entered David Woodhead’s nocturnal set in the first guise of a hatful of such roles – putting the ‘Man’ into Manteghi as it were – on a fright-night when she will be playing men only.

Just as we are appreciating her miming – with immaculate timing to the sound-effect accompaniment of the opening and closing of gates and striking of a match – suddenly a ghastly howl quickens the heart.

Taking on 20 roles? Bring it on, say Niall Ransome, Jake Ferretti and Serena Manteghi

A look of terror, a futile attempt to escape, and Sir Charles and his cigar have snuffed it.

So far, so scary, albeit in the exaggerated manner of a silent film, in a startling start where the titular hound is but a sound. Spooky, melodramatic, beyond immediate explanation: this is the perfect Conan Doyle recipe for the arrival of Holmes and Watson.

On bound Jake Ferretti’s superior Sherlock and Niall Ransome’s hearty doctor, promptly shattering theatre’s fourth wall as they demand applause for Serena’s miming, then introduce themselves and how the show will work.

Here comes the “howlarious” version of The Hound Of The Baskervilles penned in 2007 for comedy clowns Peepolykus by John Nicholson and Steven Canny and now, 150 productions down the line, picked up by Bolton Octagon Theatre artistic director Lotte Wakeham and the Original Theatre Company.

In the frame: Jake Ferretti, Niall Ransome and Serena Manteghi in The Hound Of The Baskervilles

It still carries its original health warning for “anyone suffering from a heart condition, a nervous disorder, low self-esteem or a general inability to tell fact from fiction”. In truth, the cast and indeed the characters are most at risk. The audience, by comparison, needs only sit back, laugh loudly and burst regularly into applause.

The facts are that Ferretti, Ransome and Manteghi must play 20 characters between them, multifarious accents et al. Isn’t the heir, Sir Henry Baskerville, supposed to be Canadian, Serena is asked. “Yes, but I can’t do that accent,” she replies.

In the original, the cast of three were all men and Holmes suddenly turned Spanish in the handsome form of Javier Marzan. Such is the strength yet flexibility of Canny and Nicholson’s format that we now have the added pleasure of watching Serena Manteghi as she deepens her voice, mirrors male movements and tropes, breaks out of character under emotional duress at the first act’s finale, and once more confirms what an outstanding talent this former University of York student is.

This time it is Ferretti’s Costa Rican Miss Stapleton who brings an Hispanic flourish to the production, directed crisply and crunchily for the tour by Tim Jackson.

Funny business: Niall Ransome’s Dr Watson, Serena Manteghi’s Sir Henry Baskerville and Jake Ferretti’s Sherlock Holmes make light of tackling the mystery

Comedy, yes, but send-up or spoof, no. Canny and Nicholson are true to Conan Doyle’s story, re-imagining scenes rather than inventing new ones, but always with the fourth wall in danger of needing new bricks again.

“We wanted to be as faithful as possible to the drama and intrigue of Conan Doyle’s masterpiece, while setting about discovering how to use a company of three actors to tell the story as inventively as we could,” said the writers.

“It became clear very quickly that simple props, rapid costume and scene changes, precision comic timing and a determined commitment to stupidity were going to play a significant part in our version.”

Think of the works of Lip Service’s Maggie Fox and Sue Ryding, Nobby Dimon’s North Country Theatre and Mikron Theatre, or Patrick Barlow’s “touching up” of John Buchan’s The 39 Steps, or Mischief’s The Play That Goes Wrong, as Ferretti, Ransome and Manteghi keep veering off the straight and narrow but somehow still reach their intended destination.

Niall Ransome’s Dr Watson has a blast in The Hound Of The Baskervilles

In this case, this is the art of making a drama out of staff-shortage crisis – how very 2021 – but not needing to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear because the source material is from the top drawer.

Canny and Nicholson have it right in saying the “determined commitment to stupidity” is crucial too: a characteristic that benefits from Ferretti’s Holmes, in particular, taking everything so seriously, or the pathos in Ransome’s even straighter-faced Watson having a propensity to draw his pistol on anyone and anything, especially woodland animals.

This peaks at the outset of the second act after a Tweet “complaint” from an audience member – it was a letter in the original! – about Holmes’s lack of commitment to solving the crime prompts Ferretti to demand the right to re-enact the entire first half. A breathless snapshot replay ensues.

Someone so bright acting so dumb and supercilious is but one of the delights of seeing the Holmes and Watson partnership being poked out of its comfort zone, a shift as rewarding in its comedic interplay as Morecambe and Wise’s jousting.

The Hound Of The Baskervilles goes barking mad in this amiably daft comedy, at the cost of Woman In Black or Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman’s Ghost Stories scares, but that sacrifice of bite is a price well worth paying. Howlarious indeed.

Performances: 7.30pm, plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Review by Charles Hutchinson

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