Review: THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (at the Shaw Festival)

by Lynn on September 12, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Festival Theatre, Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

Written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Adapted by R. Hamilton Wright and David Pichette

Directed by Craig Hall

Designed by Dana Osborne

Lighting by Alan Brodie

Projections designed by Jamie Nesbitt

Original music and sound by John Gzowski

Puppetry directed by Alexis Milligan and Mike Petersen

Cast: Damien Atkins

Kristopher Bowman

Patrick Galligan

Cameron Grant

Claire Julien

Natasha Mumba

Gray Powell

Ric Reid

Graeme Somerville


A good adaptation, sound acting but a production loaded with so many projections the audience has no reason to use its imagination, which means it’s rather tedious.

The Story. Sir Charles Baskerville has died of a supposed heart attack on the grounds of his estate. But his friend James Mortimer thinks something is fishy. Baskerville had a look of horror on his face and there were marks in the ground near the body that suggested that a giant creature might have scared Baskerville to death.  Sherlock Holmes and his partner Dr. Watson are called to take on the case.

It seems the estate owned by the Baskerville family is cursed.  Lots of bad things happen there since a Baskerville gave up his soul if he could have a woman he coveted. This doesn’t scare Holmes who through brilliant observation discovers clues and that a crime has been committed.  Everything hinges on the performance of Sherlock Holmes to pull this off.

The Performance. Art they successful in pulling this off? They are in the acting. As Sherlock Holmes, Damien Atkins is focused and almost in a trance he is concentrating so hard.  You know this is no ordinary man. He is emotionless and very matter of fact in his speech.  His mind is razor sharp as he finds clues, questions their use and gets deeper into the case.  Equally fastidious in his performance is Ric Reid as Dr. Watson. He is emotional, enthusiastic and committed too.  The other members of the cast play several parts and usually are unrecognizable from one character to another.

However, I smile with sad amusement at the efforts of director Craig Hall to be provocative in his direction. While the adaptation is careful to mention that there are places in the landscape that is to barren one can’t find a marker that sets off one area for another. Yet designer Dana Osborne has rock formation after rock formation float onstage to represent endless scenes on the Dartmoor moors. Jamie Nesbitt’s projections also choke the production.  A bank of screens hangs down from the flies along the side and back walls of the stage. Many and various projections are splashed on these screens to establish the Dartmoor moors, the vegetation, the geography of the various locations, and interiors of houses. The audience audibly gasped when a character went from one floor down into the basement of this manor house and the projection indicated one floor of the house lowering down (as an elevator might) to the basement. I sighed. It’s so 14 years ago in London, Eng. (William Dudley’s set of projections for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of Women in White comes thuddingly to mind.)

I wish directors could be warned that theatre is an art form that thrives on the audience being able to use its imagination. With overloaded projections as the ones in this show, the audience is not allowed to IMAGINE almost anything.  As an example—at the end of Act I, the lights come up signifying it is intermission. But just in case the audience had never been in a theatre and had no idea of how it worked, the word INTERMISSION is also splashed on the back wall after the lights come up.

Somebody has not faith in the audience to figure it out.  That’s insulting and boring. However, there is a wonderful piece of business in which a villain is sucked into the mire in mist etc. and the effect is spooky, chilling and so effective.

More of that please and less of the projections.

Produced by the Shaw Festival

Opened: Aug. 11, 2018.

Closes: Oct. 27, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours, 50 minutes

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