Ready to unleash the hound

ARENA arts director Simon James
ARENA arts director Simon James

Artistic director Simon James, of Mt Richon, said ARENAarts had always been a touring company, fighting with other ‘homeless’ outfits for spaces that were often unsuitable and expensive.

A chance comment by a community member about the Latvian Centre in Belmont, however, resulted in the company coming to an arrangement to move into the centre’s unused purpose-built theatre.

Since turning its attention from school shows to community theatre in 2001, ARENAarts has averaged one show a year in venues such as Curtin University’s Hayman Theatre, South Perth’s Old Mill Theatre and Spearwood’s Phoenix Theatre.

James said it would now run a full program and after The Hound of the Baskervilles he planned to hold another two plays and a musical for 201`4.

‘It’s absolutely fantastic,’ James said.

‘We can have more rehearsals, build sets in advance, hold meetings and workshops and become part of the community.’

For the moment, though, James has his hands full as director of Steven Canny and John Nicholson’s irreverent state adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic.

Three female actors play 15 characters between them, including Holmes and Watson as they investigate the murder of Sir Charles Baskerville.

‘From the moment I read this script 18 months ago, I knew we had to do it,’ James said.

‘The sheer lunacy of it and its visual comedy ” there are dummies, puppet monologues and deliberate malfunctions.

‘The stage manager is wandering around regularly in full view and the characters break out of their roles to talk to each other and the audience.

‘The silliness pokes fun at theatrical conventions and steps out of that stage reality, while following the novel faithfully.’

James said the members of his tiny cast, while remembering a fearsome number of lines, snapped in and out of characters, voices and costumes with ‘wonderful’ composure.