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Release the hound

By Jarrod 28 Jul 2015

The Hound of the Baskervilles is perhaps the most popular Sherlock Holmes story, despite the fact that the famous fictional detective is effectively off-stage for a good portion of it. Instead, Dr John Watson - narrator of most (but not quite all) of the canonical Holmes tales - serves as protagonist for much of the plot, with Holmes’ presence being felt, more than observed.

Clive Francis’ theatrical adaptation ups the ante on this by supplying us with no fewer than FOUR Watsons. Each of the four actors in the Circa production (William Kircher, Andrew Foster, Nigel Collins and Gavin Rutherford), alongside their other roles, has a turn playing Dr Watson - and they often all play him at once.

The effect is unusual - somewhat akin to the improv game ‘Word at a Time’, which involves multiple performers working together to tell a story one word at a time. While it leads to some delightful humorous moments - for example when three different Watsons are competing to NOT be the one to speak - it can also be somewhat distancing. This distance is compounded by Holmes (Kircher) repeatedly referring to Watson as “gentlemen”, explicitly acknowledging that there is a plurality of them.

William Kircher as Sherlock Holmes
Photo credit: Stephen A'Court

You might be left wondering, given that there are so many Watsons, why at least one of them couldn’t have been played a woman; after all, each of the male cast plays a female role in this production. Nevertheless, it’s all good fun, if never quite evoking the sense of menace and jeopardy present in the original novel. Instead, it leans heavily (and quite successfully) on comedy.

Excellent costume (Gillie Coxill) and AV design (Johann Nortje) helps set the scene, and ensures that despite the many scenes and the numerous roles played by each cast member, we’re never in any doubt as to who is who and where the action is taking place.

Great news for the accessibility of theatre: two of the performances of this production be audio-described. Each audio described performance will be preceded by a touch tour of the set, allowing visually-impaired audience members to familiarise themselves with the stage and with the actors’ voices - then during the actual show, two audio describers will sit backstage and watch the show on a monitor, while their description of the action is broadcast to special audio description headsets. The audio-described shows will take place on Sunday 9 August and Friday 15 August.

In the capable hands of director Ross Jolly, and with an excellent cast, Hound of the Baskervilles makes for a pleasant, if unchallenging, evening of entertainment.

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