The Hound of the Baskervilles

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, adapted by Clive Francis
Nottingham Playhouse
(2004)

Granville Saxton as Sherlock Holmes

How do you bring to the stage one of the most well-known detective stories ever written that features a character who's been played by everyone from Basil Rathbone to Peter Cushing? Elementary, if you're Clive Francis.

Four years ago he adapted A Christmas Carol into a one-man show and brought in a young filmmaker Timothy Bird to give it spirit - three spirits in fact, superimposed on the stage along with Jacob Marley. So when Francis was commissioned by Nottingham and Salisbury Playhouses to do a similar job with The Hound of the Baskervilles, he brought in Bird as his projection designer. The result is one of the cleverest pieces of theatre you'll ever see.

Bird's video allows the audience to experience the horrors of the Grimpen Mire bogs, Holmes' injecting himself with cocaine and the savage, slobbering hound of the title. There's also a gentle ride up to Baskerville Hall. Graphic stuff and very effective.

Three years ago director Richard Baron staged Graham Greene's Travels With My Aunt at Nottingham Playhouse with four men playing all the parts. Baron has done the same with The Hound of the Baskervilles. After the first few minutes when you adjust to there being three Dr Watsons on stage, who drive the narrative with pace and panache, you realise that the formula works.

You don't need to be a private eye to recognise that Granville Saxton is ideal for the role of Holmes. Tall and willowy, he looks the part, especially when smoking his trademark pipe, wearing a deerstalker or indulging in his passion of playing the violin. His face is so full of expression that he could almost do the whole play without a script.

He also becomes a station guard, a telegram man and a couple of other characters, slipping effortlessly from one to another.

The other three actors are similarly versatile, using an apron, a shawl or a scarf when they assume different characters both men and women.

Jeff Shankley impresses with his American accent as Sir Henry Baskerville and adroitly turns into a common cabman and the flaunty Laura Lyons. Robin Harvey Edwards and Jamie Chapman also contribute enormously to the enjoyment of this world premiere which has chilling music by Matthew Bugg and terrific lighting by Nick Richings.

So why do I have reservations about The Hound of the Baskervilles, especially as several of my friends are raving about it? It's the humour in the piece which verges on slapstick. There are some great comedic moments, such as when Holmes agrees to unravel the mystery of the hound and tells Watson: "this could be a three-pipe problem". But on occasions the production almost turns into a spoof and verges on pantomime. This is exemplified when one of the actors produces a puppet dog which bites everything in sight.

I found it difficult to marry the overtly comic elements with the inventive way the play was presented. However, Richard Baron and his cast deserve full marks for their ingenuity, originality and flair.

"The Hound of the Baskervilles" continues until September 25th before transferring to Salisbury Playhouse from September 30th to October 23rd

Kevin Catchpole reviewed this production on its transfer to Salisbury

Reviewer: Steve Orme