Hound of the Baskervilles
A good old fashioned thriller for a cold winter’s night.
Way back before the advent of TV, wannabee celeb shows and million channel digital networks, local amateur theatre was the mainstay of Saturday evening entertainment for the majority of people. Performers, cast and crew were members of ‘Am Dram’ who, for weeks before, had practised and rehearsed their lines whilst running the local post office, teaching at the village school or delivering milk & bread.
Performances were usually given in the village hall, with its own soundtrack of creaking beams and whistling windows added to heavy tobacco smoke to give an extra frisson to the atmosphere (especially when the show was a good old fashioned ghost story or thriller). Whilst audiences didn’t expect RSC or Doyle Carte standard, they felt a ‘oneship’ with those on stage and as such forgave the wobbly scenes and oft fluffed lines. I thought that such shows were now consigned to the social history books but on Saturday I took a step back in time and watched a retelling of the famous Sherlock Holmes story, The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Barnard Castle’s renowned The Castle Players.
This production, which is currently touring around Teesdale during January, was delivered on the very small stage at Scarth Hall, Staindrop, yet, with minimal use of props, sound and lighting, was a captivating example of good story telling. Directed by Sarah Fells and Chris Best, and with a surprisingly large cast of over 14 Players (quite how they all managed to get on stage at the same time is still a bit of a mystery), the story opened with a riveting monologue by Andy Moorhouse who, in recounting the initial Baskerville legend, set the tone for the night before bringing the audience into Baker Street and of course Sherlock Holmes (played with a mix of excitable genius and dismissive disdain by Steven Bainbridge).
Interestingly, for a Holmes story, it is Dr Watson who takes the majority of the lead in this production and Andrew Stainthorpe was cool, calm and very accomplished in the role – with more than a passing resemblance to Higgins from TV’s Magnum, he excellently maintains the detective element in the story in the absence of the Deerstalkered one.
There were a few occasions where the directors seemed to play to the lowest possible audience intelligence – literally signposting the scenes (including ‘FOG’) was more off putting than helpful and appeared an easy out instead of devoting a little more effort into the set dressing, after all, there are only so many places one can put their only hatstand.
Likewise, the use of newly bought bright blue clip boards (not the norm for 19th century London) left a few puzzled faces in the audience. The script, edited and abridged by Jill Cole was on the whole, very good, though some of the carefully built intensity and atmosphere was lost when the cast were allowed to drop into almost pantomime comedy. That said, as entertainment goes, the whole evening was most certainly a great night out and far better than anything being offered on the hundreds of TV channels.
Sherlock Holmes is undergoing a bit of a renaissance, especially with the excellent BBC series making a return this month complete with clever graphics and elaborate plots, but this version was very much more in tune with the original tales and delivered with an honesty and genuine enjoyment – a great step back in time both on & off the stage.