THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES
The Attic Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Saturday 30th October, 2021
This is my second production of Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous story in two weeks. From what I understand, there’s at least a third one doing the rounds. There’s definitely something in the air, given the current popularity of this tale. And what’s not to like? An intriguing mystery, Holmes and Watson in great form, and the prospect of a supernatural beast! Bring it on.
Heading the cast as the world’s most famous consulting detective is Robert Moore, who is quite possibly the best-looking Holmes I’ve ever seen. Moore’s Holmes is a little imperious and condescending, but there’s humour there too, and the portrayal is nuanced so at times you can see the cogs working, and at others know when Holmes is withholding something. This Holmes brims with pent-up energy, mental and physical and there’s never any indication of him not being in charge.
Adapter-director John-Robert Partridge appears as Doctor Watson — this case elevates Watson from the role of mere sidekick to the great man; he is permitted to investigate on his own. Partridge’s Watson is no fool. Somewhat lugubrious and implacable, he has a rich speaking voice and an understated authority, as though he is Holmes’s star pupil rather than just a sounding board for Holmes’s thoughts.
This excellent pairing is supported by a fine quartet of actors in all the other parts. Ben Armitage’s Sir Henry Baskerville is laidback and easy-going, a fine contrast to the clipped tones and reserved demeanour of the detective duo. Armitage’s Henry breezes through the action until the potential consequences dawn on him and he becomes sober and stunned.
Andrew Woolley’s Barrymore the butler is imposing and sinister —more so than his naturist Stapleton, a man prone to terrifying outbursts. I think something more could be done to emphasise his position as a naturist; an undersized butterfly net alone doesn’t cut it. Kate Gee Finch doubles as an underused, long-suffering Mrs Hudson, and as the tightly wound Beryl Stapleton in an effectively emotional performance. Sarah Feltham proves invaluable as a tearful Mrs Barrymore, a guarded Laura Lyons, and a coolly professional Doctor Mortimer.
The intimate performance space of the Attic puts us right in the Baker Street apartment, with other locations suggested by dust sheets on the furniture, or through the use of lighting and sound effects. The music and sound design by Elliott Wallis go a long way to creating an unsettling atmosphere, underscoring the action and cranking up the tension during the transitions, not least for the climactic confrontation between hound and man. Onyx Redwood’s lighting adds to the chilling aspects of the story, with director John-Robert Partridge making superb use of complete darkness to put us on edge, as unseen figures weep, laugh, and startle us. There’s even a kind of Woman In Black gliding around.
An atmospheric and engaging staging of a solid adaptation. Now, with all this interest in the Hound, perhaps I should dig out the musical comedy version I wrote twenty years ago and see if anyone’s interested…