(Please note, I left at the interval and this was technically a preview.)
‘Hound of the Baskervilles’ adapted by Tim Kelly, presented by Sell-A-Door Theatre Company at the Greenwich Theatre, Monday 2nd July, 2012.
Following from their somewhat lacklustre but “staggeringly competent” production of The History Boys I was apprehensive but optimistic about their presentation of Tim Kelly’s adaptation of Hound of the Baskervilles.
Kelly’s adaptation is by far the most popular with amateur companies but it’s hard to see why. Kelly removes us from Baker Street and introduces Holmes and Watson at Baskerville Hall as guests of Watson’s old hospital associate, Lady Agatha Mortimer (Camilla Simson). The mystery of the legend is gone, Holmes is wholly familiar with the story and enlightens Watson (and the audience) of poor Sir Hugo’s fate and the legendary curse of the Baskerville’s. The genderswitch and promotion of Dr James Mortimer makes little sense, and makes for a large plot hole – why would Lady Agatha be performing Sir Charles’s autopsy and why would a court accept her findings? Presumably this is to introduce her as a viable suspect in Act 2 as Sir Charles was going to meet a woman (thought to be Laura Lyons but there always needs to be red herring, and alas – I’ll never know).
Not only are Holmes and Watson (played by Philip Rowntree) present at Baskerville Hall, but Sir Henry is as well, taking away a lot of the early dramatic tension. Sir Henry being told to stay away from the moor if he values his life is not much of a reveal when he’s already happily established at the hall and making the acquaintance of Kathy Stapleton (Elisa King)!
Holmes’s decision to return to London, leaving Watson, makes his eventual ‘return’ rather anticlimactic, we had no reason to suspect that he was returning to London in the first place. Seldon’s brief presence, presumably played by a member of the company wearing an all too obviously fake beard, is an all too late attempt to inject some drama into this damp squib of a production.
A lot of the dialogue is too modern, Watson is just as unlikely to be singing the praises of carrots as being good for the eyesight as Holmes is to be found openly ogling the maid…something that this Holmes (played by a very youthful Christopher Anderton, with slicked back hair and scruffy choice of dress) does early on. There was also a lot of gazing wistfully into the audience (mostly by Marcus McSorely’s Sir Henry, who needs to learn how to put his hands in his pockets like a gentleman) and unintentionally hilarious attempts to fake lighting a lantern with an all too audible electric click! The obvious hiss of a smoke machine did little to help the atmosphere, nor did the sellotape holding together the ‘vintage’ map of the moor and adorably bad attempt at creating a 16th century manuscript.
In the directors notes David Hutchinson talks of the “genius” of Kelly’s adaptation in that “removing much of the melodrama…placing the action at the centre of Baskerville Hall allows a director scope for atmosphere without distraction. Far from losing the epic, adventurous feel of Conan Doyle’s work, we constantly feel the external world of the moors closing in on the case and a tension from what’s occurring beyond the confines of the play.” Which all sounds rather lovely but unfortunately, that is exactly the problem with the adaptation. Remove the early tension and mystery you are left with something remote and confusing, why does it matter that Sir Henry has been warned away if we have no reason to think anything will happen to him? Nothing particularly mysterious happens to him in the first act, other than a vague suspicion that there is somebody else lurking in the house.
Overall, a poorly adapted and blandly staged production giving me very little reason to want to come back to watch Act 2.