In the novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes uncovers a dastardly plot to murder a peer of the realm at Sir Henry’s recently inherited baronial hall on Dartmoor. Is Sir Henry Baskerville’s family really haunted by a demon hound that has caused the death of his father? I simply couldn’t guess how Conan Doyle’s narrative could be successfully transcribed for the small stage.
I found answers to my doubts in this imaginative adaptation by Robert Hamilton (who also played Dr Watson’s role) and Sandra Grant’s ambitious and inventive direction, at this little gem of a playhouse next to the Leisure Centre at Dorking Halls. What makes this production so memorable for me is not the brave idea of using shadow puppetry to illustrate Dr Mortimer’s exposition of the origin of the Baskerville family’s historical curse, nor even the robot hound so reminiscent of the animals in “War Horse”.
The pacey writing, the excellent casting and acting, and the full dramatic use of all the visual and sound effects available in this intimate theatre are what stay in the mind. The audience is very close and at one point surrounded by the action.
There’s humour and suspense, sinister goings-on, and in the second half, real drama as the hunt for a howling demon spills out into the auditorium itself amid blood-curdling snarls from all sides!
We’re utterly charmed by Robert Hamilton’s delightfully enthusiastic and twinkly Dr Watson, who is the principal narrator through a combination of letters, dramatic monologue and dialogue. His relationship with Don Brown’s aristocratic, egotistical and powerful Holmes is played by both with humour and ease.
Michael J. Leopold effortlessly conveys the tall gawky naivety of young Sir Henry Baskerville; Olly Reeves’ Jack Stapleton is as flaky as a villain should be. Terence Mayne, Mike May and Brian Innes convincingly play the other male characters: my favourite role by Brian Innes is Mr Franklin, the Baskervilles’ eccentric litigious neighbour, played with an engaging skittishness.
The principal female characters are played by Linda McMahon, Sophie Toyer and Victoria Brooks. Linda McMahon’s performance in the séance scene is particularly powerful (as is the whole cast’s ensemble performance there).
Sandra Grant’s direction is intelligent and referential. With a smile of recognition we see tags of Holmes’ thoughts flash up on the backcloth as he talks Watson through his deductive process, recalling Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes. The living picture gallery scenes are reminiscent of Jean Cocteau’s surreal “Sleeping Beauty”, as are the anonymous servant figures silently handing props as needed to the actors (a letter, a hat, an envelope).
This is an original and engaging theatrical experience. I shall certainly follow the work of this talented company and will look out for Robert Hamilton’s next adaptation for this excellent little theatre.
22/10/2014 - for "Get Surrey"