Preview: The Hound Of The Baskervilles

A new production of Sherlock Holmes by Oldham Coliseum reflects a growing thirst for all things written by Arthur Conan Doyle, as Matthew Badham discovers

Hero image

Sherlock Holmes seems to be all the rage at the moment, with recent television and film versions of his adventures, and the release of a new novel featuring the character by best-selling author Anthony Horowitz. Now Kevin Shaw, Artistic Director of Oldham Coliseum, has programmed a stage adaptation of The Hound Of The Baskervilles as part of that theatre’s new season.

“It’s a classic tale, a piece of timeless literature,” he says. “And I’ve actually had this wonderful adaptation waiting for about four years to be done. Now, suddenly, there’s something in the air about the character and so that makes it the perfect time to stage it.”

But why are Holmes’s exploits currently so popular? Is it because in recessional times audiences prefer escapism to social realism?

“There may be something in that,” acknowledges Shaw. “The Hound Of The Baskervilles is an adventure story with a mystery at its heart and those kind of tales are always popular. Audiences get absorbed by them and are made to think. But they’re thinking about the clues in the story, not about the economic and social problems that might be waiting for them outside the theatre.”

Of course, it’s possible to see Holmes’s resurgence in popularity as a curse rather than a blessing. The Coliseum’s vision of the great detective will have to hold its own against recent high-profile screen portrayals of the character by Robert Downey Jr and Benedict Cumberbatch.

“I have to admit that I have paid attention to those two portrayals when it came to casting,” says Shaw. “People of my generation probably think of Basil Rathbone if you mention Sherlock Holmes. They have this image of the character as slightly fusty and removed. But in both the recent television series and films, they’ve moved away from that to a Holmes who is a kind of action hero with brains. And that’s what I’ve gone for too.”

Despite this, Shaw is keen to stress that the Coliseum’s production is very much its own beast. Indeed, he’s enlisted cutting-edge theatre company Imitating The Dog to help him give The Hound Of The Baskervilles a unique look.

“We’re the scenographic team for the production,” explains Andrew Quick of Imitating The Dog. “Which sounds a bit posh. Basically, we’re designing the world the piece happens in. We’ve created the set and the look, which we’re bringing our own specific aesthetic to.”

This aesthetic involves the use of digital and mixed media techniques.
“The Hound Of The Baskervilles was, obviously, a novel,” says Quick. “But because it’s also well known because of several screen adaptations, I think that people’s understanding of the story is very visual. And that works for us because we’re a visual company.”

Imitating The Dog’s scenic work will see the actors performing against filmed backdrops and projected images.

“One of the big scenographic ideas in this piece is that it’s like a Victorian encyclopaedia,” explains Quick. “So scenic elements such as grass and butterflies are labelled. That relates to Sherlock Holmes’s mentality of categorisation and logic, which is encyclopaedic and rational. We’re creating a metaphorical visual world as well as a literal one.

“We also use animation. There are flashbacks in the story and there’s a sequence where we tell the tale of the curse of the Baskervilles. We show that in an animation in the style of the kind of line illustrations that accompanied the work of Victorian writers such as Charles Dickens.”

Shaw is very excited about the Coliseum’s collaboration with Imitating The Dog and says that he’s interested to see how audiences will respond.

“You could say that Sherlock Holmes is an old faithful,” he says. “But the way we’re presenting it is quite different, quite radical.

“That’s good because although we do have a duty to entertain, on occasion we also want to advance theatre as an art-form while we’re doing so.”

The Hound Of The Baskervilles tours nationally from 12 March until 19 May

Interact: Responses to Preview: The Hound Of The Baskervilles

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.