Ipswich: Laughs all the way as Joe Pasquale hunts The Hound of the Baskervilles at the Regent

Ha Ha Holmes 2013 starring Joe Pasquale

Ha Ha Holmes 2013 starring Joe Pasquale - Credit: Archant

Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett, Robert Downey Jr, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jonny Lee Miller... Joe Pasquale? Entertainment writer Wayne Savage talks to the comedian about finding Sherlock Holmes’ deerstalker and will the deer be happy when he does?

Expect loads of laughs. Picture: Liza Maria Dawson

Expect loads of laughs. Picture: Liza Maria Dawson - Credit: Archant

“No, I don’t think I’m really cut out for police work, especially with my voice; I don’t think criminals would take me seriously saying ‘you’re nicked, you slag,’” says Pasquale when I ask if he fancies playing detective in real-life.

Ha Ha Holmes comes to the Ipswich Regent next Thursday

Ha Ha Holmes comes to the Ipswich Regent next Thursday - Credit: Archant

Ha Ha Holmes sees his Holmes trying to find The Hound of the Baskervilles on the moors. There’s a very long, involved story about a curse on a family but ultimately he says, that’s pointless. It’s really an innovative, funny play about the famous sleuth’s methods of solving crimes that audiences will love getting wrapped up in.

Produced by Jamie Wilson Productions, the show got rave reviews around the country when it toured in 2011. It comes to the Ipswich Regent on Thursday, October 10.

“This year I’ve played King Arthur in the West End production of Spamalot so to go from one of the most famous kings of all time to one of the most famous detectives in one year was a huge challenge as both characters are a million miles away from who I am,” says Pasquale, who was drawn to the show after starring in last year’s Wilson-produced touring production of Doctor in the House.

“All the roles I’ve played before have basically been me. The Nerd was very much me. The Producers was me with an American accent. Doctor in the House was me in a white coat. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead was a layabout version of me. Sherlock Holmes is a real stretch for me but I’ve loved it... the script made me laugh out loud. I’ve especially enjoyed working with Ben Langley, who wrote the play and co-stars as Doctor Watson and Andrew Fettes, who plays everyone else.

Given free reign to put his own spin on it, expect plenty of audience interaction.

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“You have to be cold and analytical as Holmes, but there is no fourth wall in the play. You can ad lib or leave it alone. There’s a lot of improvisation. If an improvisation works, you keep it in the show. Improvisation is brilliant because it makes every night unique,” he says of the music-heavy show, describing it as a bit like Glee meets Monty Python with a dash of The Goons thrown in for good measure.

“It’s a really inventive show. The set is a lot of suitcases. In one scene a suitcase becomes a table where we cook scrambled eggs and eat them. In another scene, it turns into a horse and cart. My favourite part of the show is when I sing the song Hello as a duet with the Hound of the Baskervilles. Obviously the Hound is just howling, while I’m singing but you can’t really tell the difference.”

Following the original story, with a lot of artistic licence for the cast to alter things here and there to accommodate laughs, Pasquale thinks the Holmes’ stories lend themselves to the comic treatment.

“The relationship between Holmes and Watson is funny. Holmes is the master criminal hunter and Watson is his apprentice – there is great scope for comedy there. Look at Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films – there is a lot of humour in them. We’re simply heightening what’s already there. It’s Monty Python meets Men Behaving Badly meets Sherlock Holmes.”

Hound of the Baskervilles is one of the biggies for Holmes fans, but the king of the jungle, pilot, marathon man and geo-scientist says he tries not to put too much pressure on myself when doing this type of work, not being a trained actor. Instead, he tries to give his version of each character while admitting, ultimately, there will be a lot of him in everyone he plays - but not too much.

“Someone from the Sherlock Holmes Society was in the other night and they really liked it so we have got the seal of approval from them,” adds Pasquale, who’s basing his version on the Basil Rathbone incarnation from the 1940s as that’s the one that suits this comedy version. It’s easier to send up the old-fashioned one as opposed to a contemporary version.

“He’s such a popular character, people are fascinated by him. They used to write to 221b Baker Street asking him to solve their problems. Up until 2002 they employed a full-time secretary to reply to all the letters. In 2002, the Royal Society of Chemistry bestowed an honour on Holmes for services to analytical chemistry and forensic science, making him the only fictional character ever to be honoured.

“I’ve been watching Jonny Lee Miller in Elementary recently. It’s wonderful watching him unravel the crime. It’s like Columbo – click, click, click – it all falls into place. We all wish we could do that.

“The last time they did a comedy version of Holmes was when Peter Cook played him in The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1978. Everything has come full circle. They have brought back Dallas, Charlie’s Angels, The A Team, Shaft and Kojak. It’s great that a whole new generation of people is now discovering Holmes.

“Holmes has always been incredibly popular. It’s funny, because at one point Sir Arthur Conan Doyle became fed up with him. He wrote to his mother saying ‘I’ve had enough of Holmes. I’m going to kill him off’. His mother replied ‘If you do that, there will be a public outcry’. Conan Doyle said ‘I don’t care’ so he killed him off in The Final Problem, but his mother was right.

“There was so much outcry the author had to bring Holmes back again. Holmes was like Bobby Ewing in Dallas, coming out of the shower saying ‘It was all a dream’. The BBC has recently done the same thing with the Benedict Cumberbatch version. In the last episode, you saw him jump off a roof. I’m sure the writers will come up with some fantastic explanation for it, but it just goes to show that Holmes is a totally enduring character.”

Having recently made his West End theatre debut as King Arthur in Spamalot, he’s doing more and more acting.

“I really enjoy new challenges. Bonnie Langford invited me to see the show and thought it was great. When the offer came to step into King Arthur’s shoes I couldn’t resist the opportunity and jumped at the chance. I was delighted and surprised because I only had a six-week window to do it in because of my stand up touring commitments, the Ha Ha Holmes project and the Sleeping Beauty Panto later in the year.

“I did Guildenstern in Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead a few years ago which I loved immensely, but I think comedy is where my heart lies at the end of the day.

“I like the discipline of acting. Stand-up is very different, as you can go wherever you like. In a play, you have to stick to the script more rigidly. What I like about Ha Ha Holmes! is that it incorporates both disciplines. You can go off on a tangent about tortoises, but you have to come back to the script eventually. Because we understand each other very well, Ben and I know how to bring it back to the script. We know when we’ve been doing the tortoise improvisation for too long!”

If all goes well, Pasquale hopes to star in further Ha Ha Shows.

“We’re talking about Ha Ha Hood!, Ha Ha Hitler!, Ha Ha Houdini!, Ha Ha Hamlet!, and Ha Ha Hobbit! Basically anything beginning with the letter H is fair game.”

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