In the West End battle of literary whodunits given a stripped-down comic stage twist, it looks like The 39 Steps has triumphed convincingly over The Hound of the Baskervilles. As The 39 Steps announces another extension at the Criterion Theatre as well as a Broadway transfer, the more recent Sherlock Holmes arrival has posted early closing notices at the Duchess Theatre.

Peepolykus’ staging of The Hound of the Baskervilles opened at the Duchess on 17 April 2007 (preview 16 April) and had been booking to 21 July (See 1st Night Photos, 18 Apr 2007). It will now finish a month earlier on 23 June 2007 after a run of ten weeks.

Set largely on Dartmoor, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson investigate a mysterious death involving an ancient family curse and a demonic dog. Conan Doyle’s 1905 crime novel was originally serialised in the Strand Magazine in 1901 and 1902. Similar to The 39 Steps, in Steven Canny’s creation for physical theatre company Peepolykus (pronounced people-like-us), three actors – Jason Thorpe and Peepolykus founding members Javier Marzan and John Nicholson - perform all 20 roles.

Peepolykus’ The Hound of the Baskervilles premiered in January 2007 at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, where it had a month’s sell-out run, and then toured regionally. It’s directed by Orla O’Loughlin, designed by Ti Green and presented by Sam Mendes’ company Neal Street Productions and CMP Limited.

The next production scheduled for the Duchess is Buddy Holly bio-musical Buddy, which opens on 7 August 2007 (previews from 3 August), five years after it finished its first 12-year West End run (See News, 2 May 2007).

Meanwhile, at the Criterion, The 39 Steps has announced its third extension, adding another five months to its schedule, which is now booking up to 9 February 2008. It also started life at the West Yorkshire Playhouse (in June 2005), then had its London premiere last summer at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn before opening in the West End on 20 September 2006 (previews from 14 September) and going on to win Best New Comedy trophies in both the Laurence Olivier and Awards this year.

In Patrick Barlow’s adaptation of John Buchan’s whodunit, memorably filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1935, four actors play “150 roles” between them to tell the tale of London bachelor Richard Hannay fleeing to Scotland and breaking a spy ring to prove his innocence after a woman is found murdered in his home. The current cast are Robert Portal (Hannay), Rachel Pickup, Jimmy Chisholm and Simon Gregor (See News, 20 Mar 2007).

The 39 Steps is designed by Peter McKintosh and presented in the West End by Edward Snape for Fiery Angel Ltd and Tricycle London Productions Ltd in association with the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Prior to a Broadway run, the US premiere production will open at Boston’s Huntington Theatre in September 2007.

- by Terri Paddock