Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories have been adapted for film, TV and stage across the world, and at Cardigan Castle, Illyria puts their iconic stamp on one of the writer’s most exciting and thrilling works, The Hound of the Baskervilles.
The third of the crime novels featuring legendary detective Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles, tells the story of a man’s suspicious death, following the revelation of a family curse involving a legendary ‘gigantic hound’. The story was serialised in the Strand magazine between 1901 and 1902 and brought the much-loved Holmes back into readers lives following his apparent death in ‘The Final Problem.’
A talented cast of four portray a range of characters, including the famous duo, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson themselves. Director, Oliver Gray makes excellent use of the humour in Doyle’s writing as well as his colourful characters and manages to create something original and enjoyable for all.
Jill Wilson deserves mention for her wonderfully creative set design, which immediately catches the eye. A giant orange deerstalker frames the back of the stage, with doorway for the actors to enter and exit. At either side of the stage there are large magnifying glasses, through which the action can be seen, suggesting that the audience are part of Holmes’ team. The stage is decorated with a few colour coordinated boxes, a desk and typewriter, and lots of books. When Holmes and Watson walk onto the set, we are immediately transported into their world.
Liv Spencer stands out for her wonderful portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. For a character that has been imitated and re-created throughout history, Spencer manages to create a version of Holmes that stands alone. He is well spoken, sure of himself and quick-witted. He also doesn’t fail to correct Watson in his mistakes. Spencer commands the stage, speaking clearly and concisely, pausing and puffing on the iconic pipe, to demonstrate his deep thought. At first appearing in his robe and pyjamas, he later wears the iconic deerstalker and checked coat with cape attached.
Spencer also plays the wagonette driver, with hilariously bad wig, big teeth and thick Devonshire accent; Barrymore (sinister Butler at Baskerville Hall) dragging his leg slowly and rather comically across the stage, in a black beard and wig and piercing stare; as well as Beryl Stapleton (Mr Stapleton’s sister) who is constantly of a nervous disposition and on the brink of tears. Spencer is a wonderful comic actor, with excellent stage presence. Her range of skills is admirable and she is an asset to Illyria.
Nick Taylor is equally impressive as Watson and together the pair have great chemistry. Taylor portrays Watson as a dedicated partner to Holmes, and also narrates, giving the story a nice authentic touch. Dressed in black trousers and a beige coat, with bowler hat, he reports back to the detective with great enthusiasm. His West Country accent really helps to sets the scene and establishes his friendly and approachable character. Watson, after all is the person we all relate to.
Rachel O’Hare is amusing as the Baskerville heir, Sir Henry Baskerville. With bright red checked jacket, cowboy hat and fake moustache, he saunters onto the stage with a thick American accent and great enthusiasm for his new role as heir. O’Hare also takes on many of the minor roles including Cab Driver, Telegraph officer and Hotel Clerk, switching between costumes and accents with ease, showing too, her diversity within the company.
Lee Peck plays the forgetful but well-meaning Dr James Mortimer, who comes to tell Holmes of the suspicious circumstances following the death of his great friend Sir Charles Baskerville. Peck shines in his other roles as Mr Stapleton, Mrs Barrymore and Selden, the escaped convict. Peck has a talent for accents, switching from West country, to East London and women’s voices.
Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories rely heavily on a sense of atmosphere, with The Hound of the Baskervilles providing a big challenge for any production company. Illyria manage to create this throughout, with powerful acting, use of some clever props, and very little music, aside from the queer sound of a violin string being played at intervals. A horse sinking in the mire, is recreated, rather comically, by O’Hare, wearing a horses head and hooves. Wooden boxes become seats, where actors jolt to and fro to imitate the motion of a moving carriage, coconut shells give the sound for horses hooves on the road. The unsettling atmosphere at Baskerville Hall is presented through Watson’s wonderful narrative portrayal of events and the perfectly timed movement of characters around the stage. Prop improvisation is effective, often humorous: Actors hold frames in front of their heads to imitate old ancestor paintings, small cut out shapes are moved along the top of the stage to suggest things in the distance, and the actors imitate walking miles onto the moorland by moving on the spot. This all adds to the involvement of the audience and the tireless effort with which Illyria work to recreate the story.
As the production progresses the action picks up and the actors move quicker about the stage. The natural light at the castle grounds worked well as it began to fall just as the story was reaching its height. What begins as a whodunnit mystery, with Dr James Mortimer presenting a letter to Holmes, and suggesting his friend was murdered, soon turns into a horror story, with those very men out on the moor confronted by the ‘gigantic hound’ that Mortimer talks of. The fading light cleverly half hid the hilarious recreation of the Hound as it appeared through the doorway.
The small cast worked hard to keep the production lively and atmospheric. As Holmes appears towards the final part of the story, to reveal the truth, the actors had to step up their game, jumping on and off stage, changing between costumes to demonstrate their part in the crime. This at times was greatly humorous, adding to the momentum.
By taking a classic Sherlock Holmes story, and staying true to its genre, characters and narrative,
Illyria have once again created a fabulously entertaining production for all to enjoy. The Hound of the Baskervilles is full of wit, invention and atmosphere, showcasing a talented group of actors and production team. It seems that the sky’s the limit for this outdoor theatre company, and why not?
Next show is Dr Doolittle:
Dr Doolttle: https://www.mwldan.co.uk