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The Hound of the Baskervilles (Susan Elkin reviews)

The Hound of the Baskervilles – ★★★★
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
society/company: Illyria (professional) (directory)
performance date: 02 Sep 2018
venue: Coolings Garden Centre, Knockholt, Kent (part of UK tour)


Illyria’s trademark physicality, humour, multiple roles and unapologetic hamming up works well for The Hound of the Baskervilles. It’s a also a good choice for open-air theatre because you can have fun with darkness and light when you’re on the moor or in the mire – none of it, of course, taken seriously.

Conan Doyle’s most famous novel presents Watson (and clandestinely, Holmes) going to Devon to investigate a suspicious death in a landed family. There’s an old family legend about a terrifying dog out on the moor but Holmes believes only in science and reason. Cue for lots of complicated plotting and shennanigins about inheritance, cads, bounders, jilted girls, wives pretending to be sisters and lots of dogged canine references.

Four actors work wonders with this creaky old story with some very slick acting and gloriously chirpy gender-blind casting. Lee Peck, in particular, is very adept indeed leaping between characters with a delightful range of gestures and voices. He trained at East 15, renowned for character work, and it really shows. He’s great fun and very impressive to watch.

Liv Spencer, thought to be the only woman to have played Holmes on a tour of this size, plays him more mannishly than most men, pipe in hand and using her height to dominate the stage. Like every one else in this show she enunciates each final consonant like a singer which means that the entire text is fully audible and clear despite the acoustic drawbacks of playing in the open air, including aircraft.

Nick Taylor’s Watson is bluff, funny and the foil to Holmes he has to be. Rachel O-Hare’s voice work is splendid from the Southern States drawl she finds for Sir Henry Baskerville to the anxious, abused Laura Lyons and other roles.

The transport is entertaining in this show too. Director Oliver Gray repeatedly uses the old knocking coconuts for horses’ hooves and does it on stage with characters rocking in the carriage – wittily effective. When a train draws out of a station it’s the person left on the platform who sashays sideways. It gets a laugh every time but it works. And there’s a lot of walking on the spot. It looks absurd but actually it really does convey what it’s meant to.

All in all it’s an enjoyable evening’s theatre – despite the chill which set in on the night I saw it. I’ve seen Illyria in action three times this summer and this was the first time I didn’t get soaked. Hurrah!

 First published by Sardines:
Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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