I seem to recall that Michael Green in The Art of Coarse Acting expressed the view that the purpose of the lights is to light the lights, not the actors, thus satirising what happens when the design and effects chaps get above themselves. In The Hound of the Baskervilles they’ve taken over the show – and thoroughly exhilarating it is, too!
Kevin Shaw of the Oldham Coliseum, with the theatre currently undergoing refurbishment, has taken his latest production on the road, with the Lawrence Batley Theatre kicking off a nine-venue tour. He has chosen to work with Imitating the Dog, the innovative theatre group whose work I have occasionally encountered, always very impressive in design elements, not always as strong, in my opinion, as narrative or the theatre of ideas. Their part in this, their first collaboration with a non-Imitating the Dog director, is stunningly successful.
Clive Francis’ adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s tale of dark deeds on Dartmoor is true to the original, the use of Doctor Watson as narrator and participant a natural development of the original. However, the narrative line is not always as clear as it might be and the adaptation is more effective than inspired. Similarly with the performances. Gwynfor Jones and Leigh Symonds are a nice cosy double act as Holmes and Watson, with much gentle guying of Holmes’ almost supernatural powers, but they are not especially memorable – occasionally the same proves true of their lines. Amy Ewbank, Steven O’Neill and Robin Simpson capably cover several parts each.
And around this pleasantly solid Sherlock Holmes adaptation Imitating the Dog do amazing things. Every design problem is solved with aplomb: the train pulls in, the butterfly flutters for Stapleton the lepidopterist, buildings appear as if by magic. But it goes way beyond solving design problems: the imagery becomes a narrative device or a commentary on the action, as when the typist Laura Lyons learns how she has been duped and the letters of the text form above her in typescript, then slowly dissolve. For sheer chutzpah you can’t beat the billiards match where a player removes a ball from a table that is purely a projection – how do they do it? Among those who know (Imitating the Dog is a large collaborative group) are Pete Brooks (scenography), Andrew Crofts and Andrew Quick (lighting design) and Simon Wainwright (video design).