The Hound of the Baskervilles/Worcester Repertory Company

IT was only a matter of time but I’m afraid the awful moment has arrived… and so we have to break the news that Master Ben Humphrey, actor of this parish and former young pretender to the WorcesterLive throne, is off to seek pastures new.

This then was his swansong, a glorious farce in the best Carry On tradition that only just about clings by the tips of its paws to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic tale of moors, mists and mysterious mutts.

Writer and director Chris Jaeger has for some time scribbled away with Humphrey in mind and the boy never lets him down. And on this balmy – not to say barmy – night at the Commandery, the audience’s laughter almost drowned out the howling of the horrendous hellhound itself, which is certainly saying something.

Jaeger is not afraid to take liberties with great works and is astute enough not to use up all his gags too soon. And although the first half is certainly no dog’s dinner, it’s really in the second that the whole thing goes barking mad.

John-Robert Partridge as Watson is the perfect foil for Humphrey’s Sherlock Holmes, ably backed up by Murray Andrews as the hapless and predictably gormless aristo Sir Henry Baskerville, who inherits not just a stately pile but a pile of dog’s doings as well.

Bringing a bit of contrast to this constant canine cacophony is Victoria Lucie as the fragrant Miss Stapleton, a breath of fresh air in this otherwise dog basket of a climate.

Apart from Partridge, the actors double and treble up with their roles, and as far as Jonathan Darby is concerned, his Laura Lyons – a sort of cross between Shirley Temple and a Luftwaffe pilot’s girlfriend – was an absolute hoot.

You also get your rib-tickling money’s worth with Edward Manning, Liz Grand and Nick Wilkes, the former’s Barrymore footman role being a textbook case of comic grovelling.

It’s hard to imagine the Worcester Rep without the endless youthful energy of Ben Humphrey, who later this summer will take up a top arts job in Scotland.

But for him, it’s a case of all’s well that howls well. And if you want to make the most of him while he’s still around in Worcester, The Hound of the Baskervilles runs until Sunday (July 22). Not to be missed.

John Phillpott