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REVIEW: “The Hound of the Baskervilles” at The Watermill Theatre

How do you solve a murder when you have to observe social distancing rules in the crime scene?

It’s a mystery that would beguile even the greatest of minds – but perhaps not THE greatest mind of all, as Sherlock Holmes (Rosalind Lailey) comes to The Watermill Theatre.

But with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel having been successfully adapted many times over, can a new production bring something fresh to the story?

Photo courtesy of Philip Tull

The production differentiates itself from other interpretations right from the outset; the action takes place out in the theatre’s garden and against the backdrop of the building itself, with the cast entering the stage from behind trees and through fire escape doors.

It’s a striking setting, with willow trees overhanging a gently flowing river – albeit a far cry from the wild moors of Dartmoor. Yet the incongruity is totally in keeping with the irreverent spirit of the production, for this is definitely not a “Hound” that Basil Rathbone would recognise!

With the titular character represented by a cuddly toy, actors often breaking character to don face masks and remind each other not to stand so close, and contemporary beat-box musical numbers deployed to fill in characters’ backstories, it’s a far more upbeat rendition of the source material that’s far more interested in cultivating joy, as actress Rosalind Lailey observes.

Photo courtesy of Philip Tull

I won’t spoil the myriad ways in which they achieve this – I urge you to see the show and discover for yourself – but I will say that I left with a huge smile on my face, and that I certainly wasn’t the only one. As a huge Sherlock fan I have to say that it’s also faithful to the source material, and while the humorous tone may not have been in the original book, it’s definitely a humour born of fondness for the story.

The three incredibly talented actors and actresses who bring the story’s characters to life – Rosalind Lailey, Roxana Bartle and James Mack, often bouncing roles between each other in the course of a single scene – are to be commended for delivering such a enjoyable show despite the continuing restrictions that have affected all of us over the past year.

“The Hound of the Baskerville” runs until Saturday 19th June; tickets are available at https://www.watermill.org.uk/the_hound_of_the_baskervilles_2021

Photo courtesy of Philip Tull

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