Declared to be one of Britain’s best loved novels, The Hound of the Baskervilles is probably the most iconic Sherlock Holmes mystery. Set largely in Devon, this play adaptation centres on the legend of an age-old curse: a demonic hound which is said to haunt the wealthy Baskerville family. When the myth takes an all too real turn for a young Baskerville heir, Holmes and his loyal companion, Dr Watson, must take on the case and seek clarity amongst the rolling fogs of the moorlands.
What Suffragette Theatre Company’s production lacks in flair, it makes up for in admirable effort and a real dedication to the performance.
Sherlock, played by Kamil Hepak, is inquisitive and pensive, though the choice to speak so very rapidly results in a few stumbles, shorter sentences seemed very clipped, and the overall effect requires the audience to properly tune in if they wish to catch every word. Notably, the line ‘not lost Watson… never lost’ is delivered superbly. It is Dr Watson, played by Hannah Newman, who actually has a slightly larger role in this play, becoming a comedic foil to Sherlock. She is animated, alert, and attentive, though most elements of comedy throughout the play are not sustained well enough to remain a consistent thread. They are more sporadic and out of touch with the otherwise logical and fairly serious nature of the piece. The moment that receives the most audience laughter is the sudden appearance of Sean Alcock’s Stapleton from behind a curtain, made to look like a family portrait, displayed within a handheld cardboard cut-out frame. Other notable performances include Shaun Rowlandson’s Dr Mortimer, Kate Little’s Barrymore and Abbah Abbah’s Henry Baskerville. A general increase in volume wouldn’t have gone amiss, but performances are delivered with conviction and any fumbling over lines is well disguised.
The venue itself raises some staging difficulties. Lighting has to come from behind the audience, casting shadows all over the place. This is disconcerting at first, but it should be said that this aptly fits in with the mysterious tone of the play. Fluorescent indigo lighting declares when it is night time and opens the performance accompanied by laboured breathing and the alarming howl of the hound. This is a decent effect and is maintained well, compared to a few instances where a blackout between a scene change is missed. A few other details fall to the wayside also, such as how the length of the stage often means actors are still leaving as a new scene begins. The set is minimalist- two chairs and a table that are taken off stage as required. Plenty is left to the imagination, which personally causes the creation of any suspense to feel slow and carried more by the script itself than anything going on in front of me.
However, there is a lot that the imagination is capable of. Actors are remarkably good at pointing into the horizon to depict a certain view. Additionally, with particular technology lacking, it is perhaps better to have an invisible hound, rather than the artistic renderings which are used in other productions. Some performances are far more dynamic than others: this seems to be due to directing choices, but also provides a sense of visual balance across the duration of the play. And who doesn’t love an out-of-sync door knock or gunshot sound effect?
Overall, this is far from being a clean-cut performance. Nevertheless, the work that clearly went into the production is an admirable feat. The nature of Sherlock Holmes often necessitates lengthy expositions and, to a certain extent, some decent melodrama. The play is delivered successfully and, on the whole, it was an enjoyable night.
Suffragette Theatre Company’s ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ is on Sunday 3rd March from 7:30pm in Howlands, Josephine Butler College.