The question that must most often come to the mind of any Sherlock Holmes fan about to see this as a stage production is surely 'But how will they do the hound?' Oldham Coliseum's production, with Director Kevin Shaw in conjunction with 'Imitating the Dog', a company which takes video projection way beyond an atmospheric backdrop, does far more than that. Along with Holmes (Gwynfor Jones) and his loyal, kind but unimaginative friend Dr. Watson (Leigh Symonds), we can read for ourselves the mysterious letter made up of words cut out of the Times, and are taken seamlessly from to Baker Street then by train to the exterior and corridors of Baskerville Hall and then onto Dartmoor.
This is all done in a thoroughly theatrical way, and the butterflies collected by the botanist Stapleton (Steven O'Neill) loom large, making their symbolic potential evident - yes, Holmes does track down the murderer of Charles Baskerville, and the mystery of the huge hound with fiery jaws. The scenes between Laura Lyons (Amy Ewbank) with her typing business, Watson and Holmes, with a large typewriter on the table as the single prop, are accompanied by a projection of the relevant part of the novel onto the screens, reminding us that this production is in fact an adaptation. Clive Francis's script also makes some interesting additions to the novel, including a commentary by all the characters' on Holmes' cocaine addiction which much concerns Watson.
The production is a mildly parodic one, hence Holmes in his deerstalker which Conan-Doyle never attributed to him. The acting is consistently very good, with effective doubling - although Amy Ewbank was stretched to the limit being Holmes' housekeeper Mrs Hudson, Sir Henry's housekeeper Mrs Barrymore, Beryl Stapleton, Laura Lyons, and indeed a small boy who reports on his delivery of a telegram. One more female actor might have helped here. Robin Simpson gives Sir Henry Baskerville a very credible American accent.
Conan-Doyle's novel is narrated by Dr Watson, who also keeps a diary and writes letters to Holmes. Some productions would circumvent all these, and sometimes for good reason. In this production, Dr Watson does narrate part of the story to the audience, and it is to Leigh Symonds' credit that this feels entirely appropriate. We also see (hear) Watson writing his letters, and Holmes receiving them. This will please those who like adaptations to stick closely to the original but not at the expense of good theatre.
This is a beautiful production to watch, full of surprises and delights
Still to run:
Wednesday April 17 - Saturday April 21, 7.30 p.m. (£12.50 - £18.50)
Matinees on Thursday 19 and Saturday 21, 2 p.m. (£11.00 - £12.00)
Concessions: £2.00 off
The Dukes, Moor Lane, Lancaster LA1 1QE
Box office: 01524 598500