By: Arthur Conan Doyle, adapted by Clive Francis
Directed by: Robin Herford
Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
Date: Monday 19th March 2007
We’ve seen a number of Sherlock Homes adaptations recently, and enjoyed the way so few actors could represent so many characters. This promised to be the same, but with Peter Egan and Philip Franks as the two leads, we were having to dampen our expectations, so as not to get too excited.
The production was being done by the same folk who did The Woman In Black – I wasn’t sure what this would mean, but we soon found out. The stage was almost filled with two large screens. On the front one, a view of an open book was projected, with a blank page on the left, and the start of the story on the right. The text was blurred – Steve suggested this was to stop the audience reading the book, and getting to the end before the play did. The screen behind wasn’t visible at first, but as the action moved from place to place, the technical effects came into their own. The first screen “cleared”, and behind it we could see a bridge, with rocks around it. The second screen then gave us the backdrop – hills, hallway, etc – and these, together with the lighting, created a lot of atmospheric settings. We also had glimpses of Holmes from time to time – one item to note was that the violin playing was all done by Mrs Hudson (the actress playing her, that is).
In front of the screens, on what was left of the stage, were four “piles” of books and papers – these served as seats, tables, railway carriages, and anything else required, being shunted around as needed. The backdrop on the front screen changed regularly, which was very helpful in establishing where we were. The billiards table was invisible. So much for the set.
There were three other actors filling out the cast for this play, and they each covered a number of parts. Hattie Ladbury, as well as giving us her violin-playing Mrs Hudson, was the Baskerville housekeeper, Stapleton’s sister/wife, and the woman Stapleton proposes marriage to. Andrew Harrison was mainly Sir Henry Baskerville, but doubled as a cabbie and a postmaster, while Rupert Mason did just about everything else – Barrymore the butler, Stapleton himself, Mortimer the neighbour, plus station porters and a coach driver. I did find myself wishing they could have stretched to another actor to help spread the roles out a bit more, although I don’t intend to fault any of the actors for either their performances or their quick changes. The difference between the bit parts and the leads was noticeable, however, and it would be nice to see the other actors get more of a chance to flesh out their roles, rather than simply differentiating them.
The story is well known, so I won’t go into details. I wasn’t aware of anything missing, although there were some descriptions in the opening scenes which I think were taken from other stories and books. The hound was created by special effects, and worked very well, and the whole evening had a distinctly “Clive Francis” feel to it – slightly camp and pleasantly entertaining.
The main bonus was the two fine central performances. I enjoyed seeing Philip Franks on stage again, and his portrayal of Watson was fine. It didn’t stretch him much, but he gave us a good version of the affable sidekick who’s always that bit behind the main detective, but mainly because he’s working with such a supreme genius. His caring and his emotional reactions, so essential for the audience to relate to, were warming and funny. Peter Egan as Holmes was excellent. He carried such authority, and showed the unpleasant side of Holmes as well – not caring for anything except the mental stimulation and challenge, but so brilliant that people forgave him. It was easy to spot him in disguise, of course, which is another reason an extra actor might have helped for anyone not familiar with the story. Still, it was a classy performance, and one of my favourite Holmes representations.
Finally, I enjoyed the way they finished the play, with Mrs Hudson announcing another visitor who refuses to go without seeing Holmes – Professor Moriarty. The lights go down on Holmes and Watson sharing a look of astonishment. Good fun.
© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me