The Hound Of The Baskervilles, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds <!-- none onestar twostar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

There's little that doesn't seem possible, however improbable, in this absurd interpretation of Conan Doyle's most popular detective story, The Hound of the Baskervilles. The ingenious farceurs of Peepolykus (pronounced "people-like- us") tackle more than 20 characters, as well as occasionally slipping out of character - and indeed the entire plot - to toss in a red herring or two.

On an atmospheric, grey set, which doubles as 221b Baker Street as well as Baskerville Hall itself (and all settings in between: sauna, cab, train, Grimpen Mire), the three actors apply clownish humour to the famous mystery. They claim not to have tampered with the basic plot. True, an ancient family curse threatens to strike again, a spectral, demonic dog haunts the moor and a deranged killer is on the loose, but there similarity with Sherlock Holmes's best-loved case ends. Packed with physical inventiveness, this Hound, adapted by Steven Canny and the company, takes eccentric multiple-characterisation and ridiculous wackiness to extremes. Only Orla O'Loughlin's deft production prevents it from spiralling out of control.

From the melodramatic opening - the death of Sir Charles Baskerville, "his face contorted as if he had died in utter terror" - mimed to the accompaniment of bloodcurdling sound effects - to the speeded-up action replay of the first act after the interval, the pace is relentless. Javier Marzan switches back and forth between the hawk-eyed Holmes, the shifty, bearded Barryman (and Mrs Barryman) and the sinister naturalist Stapleton (and Miss Stapleton). Marzan's thick Basque accent (itself the subject of a few gags) sometimes requires sleuth work to understand, but, as Holmes, the mercurial Marzan never lets his sidekick forget that Watson is the underdog.

Even so, The Hound is more of a Dr Watson story and, in John Nicholson's Watson, Holmes has an earnest and energetic accomplice. Determined to astound with his deductions, this Watson is foiled at every turn. Jason Thorpe is a dour Dr Mortimer, and an audacious Sir Henry Baskerville. He's as adept at fielding the gags - which come thick and fast - as he is at adding an individual voice to the characters' comic bafflement at the theatrical predicament in which they find themselves bogged down. Yet finally, with one hound, they are free.

To 17 February (0113-213 7700; www.peepolykus.com)

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