York Theatre Royal, Tuesday 2nd August 2016
Damian Cruden’s Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles is an original family-oriented devised musical dressed handsomely in an appropriated Victorian circus-theatre aesthetic involving model cityscapes, shadowplay and scrolling captions.
Designer Mark Walters creates a world akin to Tim Burton’s Coraline, in which Mr Henry Dimmell and Mrs Rose Dimmell’s travelling theatre troupe enact the famous moody mystery in a somewhat confused homage to various dramatic styles including early German film. The cast commit to these styles in varying degrees, leaving the audience to imagine a cohesive flow.
The pantomime banter and pandering in-jokes of traditional theatre such as the obligatory characters running aimlessly through the audience are tiresome, and are saved only by the charm of the cast. Elexi Walker stands out as the sprightly Miss Hilda Stanley/Dr John Watson, as does Joanna Holden as the charismatic Mrs Rose Dimmell/Mrs Hudson. The Barrymores (Holden and David Leonard) are a particular dark delight. Holmes himself (Leonard) lacks enthusiasm, which is disappointing for the world-loved character.
The show is elevated by the original live score by Rob Castell and the company, though even this is held up in a painfully pointless sequence in which cellist Rachel Dawson is hoisted from the stage in an aerial hoop for a short minute before returning to the ground. The applause-begging present here is the show’s most consistent irritation. In designing the show for ‘all ages’, the company has made the old mistake of believing that ‘family-friendly’ means dumbed-down. The harking back to ye olde sensibilities and expectations is at its best jolly, at its worst condescending.
This is a show for those who like their theatre full of slapstick and distractions, and don’t mind an underwhelming climax. It could be developed into a rousing musical storytelling cabaret piece if willing to shed its more forced lyrics and find a little more purpose and passion.
The show runs at York Theatre Royal until 27th August 7pm (Tues,Thurs to Sat) 2.30pm (Weds, Thurs to Sat). Tickets are available here.