The Hound of the Baskervilles is perhaps one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s best known Sherlock Holmes stories. Written after the outcries of Holmes’ supposed death in The Final Problem, it gained such popularity at the time that it prompted Conan Doyle to resurrect his sleuth detective.
To this day, it is still one of the most popular Sherlock Holmes narratives, and indeed, it is one that had a formative influence on me.
Adapting a text like Hound of the Baskervilles is a challenge for any writer. Director and adaptor Louise Wallace herself says that previous stage renditions of this tale have often been performed as a farce – and it is easy to see why. Conan Doyle’s episodic structure – in part due to how the story was first published in episodes for The Strand Magazine – lends itself to the structure of a farce, with frequent changes in scene locations and characters dashing from Dartmoor heaths to gothic manor houses to the comfort of 221B Baker Street.
It is an ambitious task for any writer and director to make sense of this, what could be chaotic stage action, but Wallace manages it with a sense of focus. Changes of scene are achieved by simple set changes and clever lighting and sound designs, created with panache by Ross Lewis and Paul Olding respectively. Rather than being over reliant on lavish sets, Lewis and Olding give us the atmospheric sense of the various settings of the play, avoiding the worst aspects of frantic scene changes that a complicated set would demand.
Another challenge for a Sherlock Holmes production is the man himself. Performing such an iconic role can be extremely daunting. Like James Bond, Holmes is a pinnacle fictional figure for most English speakers. We each have our own favourite versions of the character – my own is Jeremy Brett – but Robert Finlay dons the pipe and deerstalker with ease and confidence.
Finlay’s Holmes is frenetic, impudent and bombastic but without straying into ‘ham’ territory. His performance reminds me of a fox or a cat in the way that you can see his cunning and intelligence working in an energetic and ever moving form. His rapport with Richard Chivers’ Dr Watson brought a warm buzz to the stage whenever both men shared a scene together. The sense of their long friendship, often marked by competitive joviality, was beautifully captured by both actors.
Indeed, the greatest strength of this production lies in the talent and skill of its cast. All of those involved give strong, detailed performances, with particular highlights being Tom Louis’ macho American Sir Henry Baskerville and Ian Crook’s eccentric Mr Frankland. The energy on stage was always high, keeping up the pace but never losing control of what risks being a confusing narrative.
While it was something of a disappointment that the Hound itself was never revealed on stage, and scene changes at times were conducted with awkward shufflings in the dark, the Rondo Theatre Company’s The Hound of the Baskervilles is an enjoyable show. For any Holmes fans, or those looking for an entertaining evening of classic Victorian drama, this is certainly a show to be seen and enjoyed.
The Hound of the Baskervilles is performing at The Rondo Theatre, Bath. 7:30pm, Wednesday 27th-Saturday 30th November.