The Attic Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Saturday 15th October, 2022
Back in 1818, young Mary Shelley invented the science fiction genre with her gothic novel that deals with those little things like creation, life and death. By creating life and thereby usurping God, Victor Frankenstein then shirks his responsibilities as a creator. His creation, unguided, has to find his own way in the world. Thus, the Creature represents the human condition, floundering while God insists on being an absentee father.
This new adaptation by Catherine Prout hits all the right plot points, even with a scaled-down cast of characters. The rather verbose dialogue is true to the style of the Shelley original and does a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to conveying a sense of the period.
Dan Grooms is an impassioned if youthful Victor, adept at showing signs of high distress both physically and emotionally. I wonder if his pre-recorded narration would be better done live as he potters around in his laboratory.
He is more than matched by his Creature, in a towering performance from Alastair Oakley, who is imposing and innocent, ferocious and frightening, while also being pitiful. It’s a remarkable portrayal.
This central pair is supported by a versatile ensemble. The mighty Robert Moore is charming as Victor’s BFF Henry, and brings a touch of humour as farmer Felix; Matilda Bott is devastating as the wrongly-accused Justine; Phil Leach brings gravitas as Victor’s dad, and warmth as blind De Lacey; Joshua Chandos impresses as Captain Waldman to whom Victor unfolds his tale; while Lily Bennett does a bang-up job of making too-good-to-be-true Elizabeth sympathetic rather than soppy.
Adrian Daniel’s set has something of a steampunk aesthetic, all ropes and chains, dials and switches. Lit by Kat Murray, it becomes a versatile and atmospheric setting for the play’s many locations.
As ever, director John-Robert Partridge makes the most of the Attic’s intimate space. Characters roam around in blackout, menacing the front row. Sudden screams and loud noises keep us on edge, as the gruesome tale weaves its fascinating spell. Even the scene changes are eerily done. It all flows smoothly and creepily – apart from some teething troubles with a recalcitrant table top that threaten to hold up the action! With today’s matinee being only the second performance of the run, I’m sure these minor problems will soon be ironed out.
Production values are high – special shout out to Sue Kent’s make-up work on the Creature – proving that with the right treatment, the familiar fable still has the power to intrigue, provoke and shock.
Like Victor’s Creature, this spellbinding show is extremely well put together.
Attic Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 15th September 2022
Following last year’s rip-roaring Hound of the Baskervilles, Tread the Boards theatre company is back with this anthology of Holmes’s adventures. Back as the detective duo is the excellent pairing of Robert Moore as Sherlock and John-Robert Partridge as Dr Watson. Moore is in peril of becoming my favourite Holmes: he has the attitude, the humour, the intensity, and the heroism all down to perfection, with Partridge’s Watson and intelligent padawan and emotional barometer for the action.
The four stories in this exquisite adaptation are A Scandal in Bohemia, The Speckled Band, The Dancing Men, and The Final Problem, but the script avoids an episode structure by providing a throughline courtesy of arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty – Stephen Hardcastle in a suitably sinister portrayal.
Matilda Bott delights as a chirpy Mrs Hudson. Leo Garrick impresses as an aggressive Doctor Roylett, while Stephanie Miles makes a spirited Irene Adler. The supporting players get to demonstrate their versatility by doubling roles; the leading men get to demonstrate theirs by adopting disguises.
Partridge also directs, getting the tone of the piece spot on. The intimate space of the Attic puts us right in the Baker Street flat where all the action unfolds. Judicious use of lighting and sound effects suggests the other locations – Elliott Wallis’s superb music-and-sound design goes a long way to creating the atmosphere and a sense of time and place.
The script, by Robert Moore himself, wisely adheres to Conan Doyle, delivering everything we expect from and love about the most famous consulting detective.
There are plenty more stories that could be staged in this manner and I really hope a Tread The Boards Sherlock Holmes show becomes an annual treat.
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…