Writer: Arthur Conan Doyle
Adaptor: Mark W
Director: Oliver Hume
Most people will have at least heard of The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle’s third Sherlock Holmes novel and the subject of many film and stage adaptations, but few might have more than a passing knowledge of the plot, in which Sir Charles Baskerville is killed in what might be suspicious circumstances that might involve the giant supernatural hound that is supposed to haunt the Baskerville line. Worried for Charles’ heir, Sir Henry Baskerville, Baskerville’s doctor and friend, James Mortimer, asks for Holme’s help. He sends Watson with Sir Henry to help keep him safe. They take up residence in Baskerville Hall but receive anonymous notes, hear strange noises and meet eccentric locals while Watson reports back to Holmes – and the audience. Eventually, Holmes takes charge and the mystery is solved.
It comes as no surprise to discover that this production was preceded by a rehearsed reading, for one feels that the performance is rather wordy and dialogue-heavy. Two of the cast, Alex Nikitas and Emma Cooper, are experienced storytellers, and this helps make their performances all the more engaging. A static set that has areas that hint at the different locations is used well to maintain the flow, but overall one feels the pace is somewhat pedestrian, especially in the first half – perhaps because the very faithfulness of the adaptation makes for an evening that relies more on storytelling than action. Indeed, Nikitas’ Watson, our narrator for the evening, frequently breaks the fourth wall to announce each chapter and give background to each scene. The rest of the small cast of four all play multiple roles and move from character to character seamlessly aided by carefully choreographed variations in costume. They all remain still on stage between their scenes, coming to life to rearrange the set appropriately so that the action is uninterrupted. However, the wordiness of the piece means that the eccentricities of the characters in Devonshire and the connections between them are perhaps not fully developed, leading to a sense of anticlimax at the dénouement.
As Sir Henry Baskerville, Richard Buck does a workmanlike job. His determination to take up residence at his family pile is clear while Baskerville’s frustrations driven by the inexplicable events around him are shown effectively. An imposing physical presence, he is nevertheless able to differentiate his characters well, even if his accents are not always totally convincing. James Nicholas’ Holmes starts the evening as a peremptory authoritarian, schooling Watson in observation as they examine the stick left by Cooper’s Dr Mortimer. His orders are given in a clipped, almost military, manner and one can’t imagine anyone straying from his directions. As Holmes, Nicholas does command the stage and one listens closely for his deductions. Later, he becomes more affable as the solution to the mystery is revealed and the required further action is planned. However, the big reveal is somewhat underplayed, an opportunity missed for the building and release of tension. Cooper switches roles, ages and gender frequently through the piece and is believable in each character she presents, each further differentiated by the physicality of her performances.
Overall, the story is well told, it flows well and one comes away with an understanding of the narrative. But what one doesn’t quite get is heart-stopping suspense – the whole is, perhaps, too matter-of-fact, the irrational fears presented maybe downplayed a little too much. Even so, it’s an entertaining retelling of a classic story.
Runs until 31 October 2021