REVIEW: A sinister mystery on a beautiful set

Sir Henry Baskerville (David Rankin) and Lady Agatha (Trish Moram). Picture by Luise Cartwright

Sir Henry Baskerville (David Rankin) and Lady Agatha (Trish Moram). Picture by Luise Cartwright

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The Hound of the Baskervilles, Archway Theatre Company. Directed by Richard Harker with Carol Hall. Wednesday, June 3

Until tonight, I don’t think I’ve been to a show that receives a round of applause at the very beginning.

Joseph Booton as Sherlock Holmes. Picture by Luise Cartwright

Joseph Booton as Sherlock Holmes. Picture by Luise Cartwright

As the curtain rises to reveal a beautiful room in Baskerville Hall, the audience can’t help but express their admiration.

It’s possibly the best set I’ve seen in a small stage production – amateur or professional – blending dark and light browns with strategic lighting to create a high class, yet claustrophobic Victorian setting.

Anything ‘outside’ the house appears to be pitch black, which conveys a sense of impending doom, especially when the fog starts seeping in.

The Hound of the Baskervilles, a popular Sherlock Holmes mystery, tells the story of Sir Henry Baskerville, a man whose family is apparently being terrorized by a great black beast from the moor. Into this environment comes top detective Sherlock Holmes, determined to uncover the truth once and for all.

This show (inevitably) has a distinctly Victorian pace and audiences who are only familiar with the BBC’s snappy Benedict Cumberbatch vehicle might find the first half a little slow. However, what the play lacks in action (at least, until the second half), it makes up for with its grim atmosphere and solid performances.

Joseph Booton is a pretty good Sherlock Holmes, showing an exuberant and highly intelligent man who is amusingly pleased with himself when he gets to demonstrate his own brilliance. Joseph doesn’t shy away from the sleuth’s crueller side either, conveying rather mean-spirited attitudes towards women in a way that’s quite jarring for a modern, PC audience.

Bob Comolli presents a much warmer, comedic character as Watson while co-director Carol Hall captures her character’s inner turmoil well as Mrs Barrymore.

Holmes and Watson aside, this play is a kind of ensemble piece and all performers contribute in effective ways.

John Freeman offers a suitably shifty and calculating Mr Barrymore while Phil Taylor injects his character, Jack Stapleton, with a kind of petulance that comes to the fore in a confrontation with Sir Henry.

Megan Fraser (Perkins), Trish Moram (Lady Agatha Mortimer) and Lisa Ray (Laura Lyons) create their characters convincingly while Marianna Kydonieos is a delight as Kathy Stapleton. Kathy appears to be sweet, innocent and naive but, without wanting to give too much away, Marianna believably shows that this girl has a dark side.

Finally, David Rankin is particularly impressive as the dignified, self-assured yet somewhat hot-headed Sir Henry Baskerville, performing all his lines with a well-observed and pleasant American accent.

Overall, The Hound of the Baskervilles isn’t my favourite offering from the Archway, but it’s still an entertaining mystery and I’d quite like to see how the company handles a different Sherlock Holmes story if it returns to Arthur Conan Doyle’s world anytime soon.