First published in The Times, Wednesday September 18 2019
There is a certain irony in how Sherlock Holmes barely appears in his most famous literary adventure. His near-absence is indicative of the ambivalence his creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, felt towards the character. Indeed, The Hound of the Baskervilles marked Holmes’s resurrection eight years after Doyle tried to kill off his fictional detective.
The key player in the novel and this stage adaptation by Douglas Maxwell is Holmes’s customary sidekick and biographer, Dr Watson. He is dispatched to Dartmoor to investigate the monstrous hound persecuting generations of Baskervilles while the deerstalkered one apparently holds the fort at 221B Baker Street. Jake Wilson Craw, the actor playing the good doctor, is rarely offstage in Jake Smith’s production for Northern Stage. His three-dimensional portrait of Holmes’s doggedly determined – if guileless – foil is the glue that binds the pieces of this lively but uneven show together.
Pic: Topher McGrillis
Craw is the only actor among the youthful ensemble to portray a single character throughout. Maxwell’s busy script calls upon the others to switch back and forth among multiple supporting dramatis personae, often at dizzying speed. While all four members of the cast display an admirable versatility, it is Rebecca Tebbett who most convincingly rings the changes as she transforms from Sir Henry Baskerville to Miss Stapleton to Laura Lyons.
Pic: Topher McGrillis
For the most part, Smith and his cast succeed in capturing the balance of wry humour and jeopardy in Doyle’s story, even if Maxwell’s script is overlong, allowing the action to peter out into confusing expositional babble towards the end. Elements of the staging feel a little overstuffed, too, including visual effects that hover between the sinister and the unintentionally comic and a soundscape of noises off (whispering voices, a woman crying, the dog barking) that proves distracting. The set designer Amy Watts’s assault course of dining table and chairs, lit in suitably gothic fashion by Michael Morgan, impressionistically evokes the treacherous mires and tors of Dartmoor.