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While waiting for LUTG’s adaptation of Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles to begin, I was delighted to recognise Hans Zimmer’s orchestral piece, Discombobulate, playing in the background. This is a sinister yet somehow comical piece of music and, indeed, the weaving of the comic and sinister is what LUTG’s play does so well.
Directed by Emily Millard and produced by Frances Barker, LUTG’s play loosely adapts the famous story which sees Holmes and Watson protecting Sir Henry Baskerville, the heir to a fortune, from a supernatural hound which runs wild on the moor surrounding Baskerville Hall. Is the hound real, and to whom who does it answer?
I was not expecting the humour in LUTG’s production, given that Conan Doyle’s story is not particularly funny. The audience of LUTG’s play is provided with plenty of laughs from unlikely places: for instance, the eccentricities of the minor characters are well-maintained, be that Lady Agatha’s tendency towards shill indignation, Jack Stapleton’s temper, or servant Perkins’ flighty forgetfulness.
I also didn’t expect LUTG’s production to be chilling, given that Conan Doyle’s story relies on the threat of the hound (difficult to convey on stage) to evoke fear… However, the sound effects used to convey the ominous presence of both the hound and moor, despite the entire play occurring inside Baskerville Hall, and the occasional plunging of the audience into darkness are fantastically effective. The most impressive “effect” is the occasional shining of a torch on a glass door: when the glass reflects this light, it is impossible to believe that anything but horror lurks beyond the stage.
Neither does the play lack originality. For instance, scraps of dialogue which mention the existence of a “phone” and “answering machine” suggest that this reincarnation of Conan Doyle’s story is not set in the Victorian era. This is also evidenced by the role of Watson, as this character is not just played by a female but also referred to as “she”, despite her masculine clothing and flirtation with other female characters. These unexplained details complement the farcical humour of Watson’s role: her invariably disgusted or frustrated facial expressions are hilarious.
Holmes’ character in the LUTG production is not so original: his mannerisms remind me of Jeremy Brett, particularly the gesture of looking to the ceiling while inhaling and the sudden spurts of manic energy. I would like to have seen an even more energetic Holmes, perhaps using the space where the audience sits, but Holmes in this play is nevertheless charmingly recognisable and delivers some hilariously blunt dialogue.
Sir Henry Baskerville’s introduction annoyed me in that he has a lot of conversation which obscures his face from the audience, but my irritation lessened as the play progressed and this clown-like character delivered perfectly timed one-liners. One such line occurs after his prolonged disappearance: he reappears with the assertion that he has merely been busy in his potting shed. Baskerville’s interactions with the character Mr Barrymore, a hard-to-read servant, are particularly engaging. Mr Barrymore’s wife is a slightly one-dimensional character, perpetually in tears or hysterics, but this only adds to the intrigue surrounding her husband.
While there is much to enjoy about this play, the amount of exposition it must shift through is rather overwhelming. I cannot help but feel there must be a better way of revealing the backstories of each suspect and the intricacies of the Baskerville legacy than having characters wade through long, explanatory and somewhat unrealistic confessions. The backstories in question are of course crucial to understanding the story, but they are sadly easy to tune out. Indeed, while I applaud the sinister atmosphere of the production, not enough attention is given to shocking the audience: namely, the revelations that Holmes has been on the moor all along, when he has claimed to be in London, and that one of the characters has died at the end of the play are not nearly exciting enough.
However, LUTG’s play is more than able to elicit goose-bumps and, even more so, unexpected laughs: I am pleased that this production of Conan Doyle’s heavily adapted story chooses to do both, defying the more straightforward source material.