Writer: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Adaptor: Steven Canny & John Nicholson
Director: Lotte Wakeham
After a lengthy refurbishment and the small matter of a global pandemic to contend with, the Octagon Theatre has finally welcomed back audiences with a socially distanced ‘Warm Up’ season of shows, culminating in this comic re-telling of the Sherlock Holmes tale The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Adapted by Steven Canny & John Nicholson for theatre company Peepolykus in 2007, the plot largely follows Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are enlisted to unravel the mysterious death of Sir Charles Baskerville, believed to have fallen victim to the curse of a supernatural Hound, haunting the moors and picking off the Baskerville heirs one by one.
Canny & Nicholson unnecessarily frame their version as a ‘play within a play’, which slows down the storytelling initially although it does later allow for the fourth wall to be broken to amusing effect, such as the introduction of Canadian Sir Henry, who sounds distinctly British because the actor ‘can’t do the accent’.
The joy of this adaptation is how Conan Doyle’s sprawling cast of characters are brought to life by only three actors, playing multiple roles and finding imaginative ways to set the scene. The style is similar to that of Patrick Barlow’s The 39 Steps and the funniest moments are the most farcical; a supposed complaint from an audience member leads to a fast-paced recap of the entirety of Act One and a train journey is portrayed in silent movie style.
Octagon Artistic Director Lotte Wakeham keeps the scenes flowing seamlessly and having previously directed the play in 2017, her familiarity no doubt helps ensure the performers make the most of the comic potential in every scene. The looming backdrop of Baskerville Hall is detailed and atmospheric and designer David Woodhead also cleverly transforms very few props for multiple ingenious uses.
The strength of this production is the cast, who are full of energy throughout, rapidly switching between costumes and characters with ease. Simon Kane is a likeably hapless Dr Watson whilst Reuben Johnson and Polly Lister do the majority of character swapping, with Lister’s three ‘subtly different’ Yokel’s a particular highlight. All three are equally adept at the physical comedy, whether it be a Tango dancing interlude or getting stuck in the quagmire on the moors and seemingly sinking into the stage.
The ideas and tricks are perhaps no longer as original as they were when first written and if you have seen similar plays, there is nothing truly unique in the staging that has not been seen before. However, everything is very well-executed and the storytelling is playful and inventive throughout.
The Hound of the Baskervilles is an exuberant and entertaining production and all of the Octagon staff go to great lengths to ensure audiences are welcomed back warmly and safely. Whether you are a fan of the original novel, the numerous screen versions or are completely new to the story, you will find much to enjoy in this madcap and lively adaptation.
Runs until 7th August 2021