You tread along something of a cliff-edge when you take one of the most famous detective stories and make it into a stage play. Clive Francis’s version of Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles is, very properly, an actor’s version. This new touring production from the Oldham Coliseum and Imitating the Dog (how do theatre companies hit upon these names?) is exceptionally cleverly staged by Kevin Shaw.
His design team – Michael Spencer (overall design), Heather Bagley (costumes) and Simon Wainwright (video and visual design) – have come up with a multi-media pageant which keeps the story on the move while surrounding (but never overwhelming) the five-strong cast with appropriate images evoking time and places. You probably know what’s coming through the book itself or one of its other film or stage adaptations, but this one grips throughout.
Leigh Symonds is Dr Watson, very much the Army man (he wears red throughout) as well as Holmes’ foil, and he acts as the narrator. Gwynfor Jones plays Holmes as a man perhaps just a trifle too clever for his own good. Robin Simpson is bluff Sir Henry, returned from Indiana to his ancestral estate with Steven O’Neill as Dr Mortimer, butler Barrymore and lepidopterist Stapleton.
The women in the case – Beryl Stapleton, Laura Lyons, Mrs Hudson and Mrs Barrymore – are all shouldered by Amy Ewbank. Grey, brown and red are the costume colours throughout, leaving the projections and minimal props to move us from London to Dartmoor, from gas-lit consulting room to storm-swept moor. The tilted acting area is backed by shutters and there’s an evocative soundscape partly provided by composer James Hamilton.