From a purely technical point of view, director Jake Smith’s stage adaptation of the classic Conan Doyle mystery, The Hound of the Baskervilles, is a howling success. On entering the cosy confines of the Tron Theatre’s Changing House auditorium, the audience is greeted with the sight of a simple yet suitably grim backdrop depicting the foggy Devonshire moor in which this most famous Sherlock Holmes tale unfolds. Throughout the performance, this backdrop is lit up with hellish red light, flashes with lightning, and is warped by eerie forms to bring the infamous hell-hound to life.
Effective use of sound cannot be overlooked either. Hats off – and those hats are probably deerstalkers – to sound designer Jeremy Bradfield for the chilling ambience created by a combination of discordant violin notes and sinister whispers. The technical elements, however, are all that give atmosphere and intrigue to the show.
Perhaps we’ve been spoiled over the years by the many unforgettable on-screen performances of the legendary detective: Rathbone, Brett, Cumberbatch, to name but a few. As a result, there is surely an immense challenge in taking on the role of Sherlock Holmes nowadays. To their credit, the cast in The Hound of the Baskervilles make an admirable effort to rise to that challenge. Despite these efforts, however, much of the dialogue sounds rattled off, with a noticeable lack of emotional depth. Instead of the cool, methodical Holmes best loved by fans of Conan Doyle’s work, here is a bickering, self-pitying husk of the great detective, wallowing in a recently failed case. Doctor Watson offers up a serviceable narration at regular intervals, and every now and again there are glimpses of a passionate performance. Unfortunately, they are only glimpses, which are lost in an otherwise lacklustre play.
Great works of theatre can produce profound emotional reactions, bringing audiences to tears or fits of laughter. They can provoke deep thoughts and discussions, or just some light relief in troubled times. What The Hound of the Baskervilles produces is a decent night out, but if you are looking for a gripping gothic horror, loaded with suspense and a touch of the supernatural, you may be barking up the wrong tree.