Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, adapted for the stage by Nicholas Briggs
Theatre Royal, Nottingham
(2009)

Clssic Thriller season graphic

Colin McIntyre's annual Classic Thriller Season at Nottingham's Theatre Royal is now in its 21st year and regular patrons know what to expect: a hard-working rep company performing four different productions which either have you on the edge of your seat or intrigued at the complexity of the plot.

Any slight reservations about the quality are usually offset by the fact that most theatres within a wide radius are dark for the summer and the only theatrical experience available anywhere else is more often than not outdoors.

This season the thrillers include a Francis Durbridge and a Brian Clemens as well as William Dinner and William Morum's whodunit The Late Edwina Black.

Occasionally there's one production which sticks out like a cuckoo in a reed warbler's nest. Five years ago McIntyre himself directed an adaptation of Dracula which turned out to be a spoof. This year he's at the helm of Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles. It's another departure from the customary thriller; like Dracula it's difficult to decide whether it's a comedy or a send-up.

This adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles is by Nicholas Briggs, a thriller-season stalwart who's also known as the voice of the Daleks and the Cybermen on BBC1's Doctor Who. He's a fine actor who portrays Sherlock Holmes as a vivacious character with few eccentricities. But he's come up with a quirky, inconsistent and often wordy script.

The play has a small amount of humour, a little bit of suspense and its fair share of mysterious goings-on. But it succeeds only in baffling you about its identity and intentions.

It starts promisingly enough, with fog swirling around the stage as the tension mounts before Sir Charles Baskerville comes to a gruesome end.

The action moves to the Theatre Royal bar, with clever references to Nottingham customs, before it switches to Baskerville Hall via Victorian London.

Holmes doesn't appear much on stage, leaving Dr Watson to act as narrator as well as trying to solve the canine conundrum.

Adrian Lloyd-James gives a workmanlike portrayal of Watson while the rest of the cast, some of whom play multiple roles, approach the play with enthusiasm.

The music and effects are excellent, adding atmosphere and tautness which lift the production on several occasions.

But they can't make up for what I felt was a disappointing evening characterised by a largely uninspiring script and occasionally a lack of direction. There's little excitement or bewilderment to keep you enthralled.

Strange that Briggs' quirky adaptation should be the first offering in the thriller season. Anyone experiencing Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles who's never seen a play in this series before might be put off watching any of the others.

But on the evidence of previous years, the more traditional productions shouldn't be hounded out of town and there ought to be more of an appetite for them.

"Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles" runs until August 15th and the Classic Thriller Season until September 5th

Reviewer: Steve Orme