Thursday, 1 March 2018

REVIEW: The Hound of the Baskervilles at Mill at Sonning

Arthur Conan Doyle's Hound of the Baskervilles is a familiar title from its multiple TV and film versions over the years but the detailed story from the original serialised book published in 1902 is less well known but has been less rarely adapted for the stage. Simon Williams and his son Tam have taken on the challenge of bringing all the detailed plot elements to the stage for this new play at the Mill at Sonning. It is an ambitious idea set as it is in multiple locations in London and Dartmoor with several interlinked plot lines involving an escaped convict, a mysterious Hound and two couples with guilty secrets. Although they effectively incorporate all the story elements into the play, the adaption is too literal from the book and the staging is clunky and laboured.

The set design by Michael Holt is one brown tone with a raised sloping platform upstage centre framed by two brown drapes which is mainly used to indicate Dartmoor landscape. The forestage becomes the location of interiors in London and Dartmoor with just a single piece of furniture or the area around those buildings. While the platform does successfully represent rocky outcrops on the moor in some scenes it does also involve various passages where characters climb up and over for no obvious reason. There is no real sense of location and the drab brown colour also mutes any lighting effects projected on to it.

The intention was to create a ripping yarn with suspense and intrigue but the tension never really grips and the theatrical devise of having Holmes communicate telepathically from various locations in the auditorium with Watson, as opposed to through letters in the book, slows the pace and reduces the build up of tension. It leads to Watson frequently repeating lines Holmes has just spoken. The use of mysterious monk like characters to change the furniture and props feels odd , they have nothing to do with the story and become more comical than threatening.

When the Hound finally appears it looks skeletal and rather too small to be the sort of creature that scares someone to death.

The cast therefore have to work very hard with the setting and structure to engage the audience and create the multiple characters in the story. Darrell Brookis is the best in the cast of seven as the amiable plodding Watson with bright sparkling eyes and engaging grin. Chris Myles plays first Dr. Mortimer who brings the case to Holmes and then the unhinged Stapleton a naturalist who roams around the moor. Tom McCarron plays the generations of Baskervilles and mainly the Sir Henry the heir threatened by the legend of the Hound. GIlbert Taylor plays five parts and is mainly featured as Seldon the escaped convict in his desperate attempts to survive the moor. Matthew Pearson and Ajjaz Awad are featured as the Baskervilles butler Barrymore and his wife. 

Holmes is played by James Tucker with reddened eyes from cocaine use, he
drifts through the play with ease but never shakes off the ghost of Jeremy Brett who defined the image of Holmes on TV. He suffers from the fact that this story is one in which Holmes is not present at the scene from much of the production, having stayed in London on another case and this limits the scope of the central role.

After the wonderfully fresh innovative use of the Mill stage for a brilliant production of My Fair Lady, this workmanlike staging of the classic tale is disappointing and shows the limitations of the venue when the action calls for multiple locations.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★
Blog Design Created by pipdig