Digital Editor Cerys Gardner and Life&Style Editor Saskia Hirst review The Hound of the Baskervilles, deeming it a perfectly spooky play to watch in the run-up to Halloween


The Hound of the Baskervilles is an infamous Sherlock Holmes story that has been told countless times, including in the BBC TV show Sherlock. It is about a mysterious hound that threatens Dartmoor, said to be a curse placed on the Baskerville family. I really enjoyed this creatively done adaptation, adapted for stage by Mark W, that made use of its limited cast and stage very effectively. 

There were only four actors, who played in total eight characters: Richard Buck (Sir Henry Baskerville and Mr Franklin), Emma Cooper (Dr Mortimer, Laura Lyons, and Mrs Stapleton), James Nicholas (Sherlock Holmes and Mr Stapleton), and Alex Nikitas (Dr Watson) – all the actors, except Dr Watson who narrated the play using excerpts from the original text, played multiple roles and used clever shifts in costume and mannerisms to portray different characters.

All the actors […] played multiple roles and used clever shifts in costume and mannerisms to portray different characters

This is one of my favourite techniques in theatre, when smaller companies use simple props like a hat or a cane and a shift in expression to denote different characters played by the same actor. When done well, as in this production, it really showcases the range of an actor to quickly switch between vastly different characters. 

For me, the standout actor was Emma Cooper; she had the most parts to play and she shifted between them almost effortlessly. Transforming from the well-to-do doctor in charge of the will to the servant woman Mrs Barrymore with her acting just as convincing in every role she played.

However, my only issue was the accents used for certain characters – most remarkably Sir Henry’s American accent which waned throughout the show. There were also the West Country accents done by Mr and Mrs Barrymore (James Nicholas and Emma Cooper), and as someone from Bristol, these were not the worst I’ve ever heard but definitely still a bit over-exaggerated and inaccurate. Thankfully, these imperfect accents did not diminish my enjoyment of the show at all. 

The set was as multi-purpose as the actors themselves with a simple red and wood panelled wall with empty picture frames serving as a backdrop for 221B Baker Street, Baskerville Hall, and Merripit House. Two coat stands housed the clothing required for various roles, a desk with a typewriter on against one wall, and two wooden chairs and two crates. The chairs and crates were used ingeniously at various points for the sitting room of 221B, a train carriage, and a horse and carriage. The set might have been limited but the actors used everything they had to its full potential, no doubt down to the excellent directing of Oliver Hume. 

The set might have been limited but the actors used everything they had to its full potential

Lighting and sound were also used imaginatively to create atmosphere, with unsettling music played before the show started and during the interval. The play started with the lights down and only the sound of a hound growling, a motif repeated throughout the show, and the audience could hear a man screaming. This perfectly set the scene for the rest of the play and the events that were about to unfold. However, it is in the climatic scene were Holmes and Watson confront the hound that the effects are used to their fullest; smoke piped down the aisle between the seats and towards the stage to create the illusion of fog, green lighting, and the sound of a pounding heartbeat created a very real sense of tension in this crucial scene. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this performance and would recommend it to anyone, particularly those looking for something slightly spooky (but not too scary) to do in the run-up to Halloween. 

Cerys Gardner

Ominous, ambiguous and (dare say) supernatural — in the intimate nook of the Blue Orange Theatre, The Hound of Baskervilles asserts itself as a thrilling and compelling nuance in the Sherlock Holmes stories. 

Namely, because Sherlock is tucked away from the action — so far as we are aware — in London, leaving his infamous side-kick Dr Watson to deduce and deduct what mysterious happenings occur on the moor. The nature of the plot automatically forms an intimate bond between Watson and the audience, but the intimate setting of the Blue Orange Theatre and the intelligent merge between on-stage action and ‘back-stage’ costume changes occurring on the sidelines of the stage – visible to the audience – ingeniously transforms the boundary between actor and audience. 

A cosy bond, where we’re aware thanks to Watson’s narration that this is indeed fiction, or at least a record of his extravaganza, yet simultaneously resonate with the everyday well-to-do man Watson is. Our minds oscillate between the action, and being brought out of the action by Watson’s direct out-of-action ‘Chapter 6: Baskerville Hall’ reminders to the audience. 

The Blue Orange Theatre’s production […] wonderfully exploits the two-story narration in the detective fiction

The Blue Orange Theatre’s production, then, wonderfully exploits the two-story narration in the detective fiction: the whodunit as one story, and how Watson narrates it as the other. The audience is encouraged to take part, but is still reminded this story is imbedded firmly in the past and is being handed to us second-hand like folklore (rather fitting, given actor Alex Nikitas, on-stage Watson is a storyteller and writer specialising in adapting English fairytales for theatre). 

In hand, the attention on the adored (if not a little twee) Watson, creates a homely atmosphere whereby the audience feel as much a detective as Watson and Holmes — a refreshing innovation from the stern, aloof, and cold exterior of Holmes’ usual character who has tendency ostracise and patronise conclusions us mere low-folk are inclined to fool for. 

The director Oliver Hulme fantastically brings this to life. Hulme says, ‘I think the reason Hound of the Baskervilles has such a lovely appeal is that actually it’s not about Holmes as much as it is about Watson. The Everyman, the person we identify with the most rather than the cold, calculating enigmatic detective.

The production was anything but monotonous

We can follow his reasoning before he explains himself, understand why he does what he does and this somehow makes everything more mysterious and scary before the cold rationality of Holmes arrives to explain the mystery. And Watson is brave, far braver than most, trusting to Holmes’ command and facing a terrifying threat head on with pistol in hand.’

By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s time in 1892, the ‘Sherlock Stories’ were rather monotonous and cliché in the genre of detective fiction. But luckily for the Blue Orange Theatre, the production was anything but monotonous. Wrapped in a haunting, eery stage with ominous music trickling through the speakers and fog dusting the crowd, the production is a lovely and lively imagining of the iconic, loveable, and timeless The Hound of the Baskervilles

Saskia Hirst

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