The University of Southampton's Theatre Group production of a classic Sherlock Holmes story is wonderfully spooky and I'm a keen bean to see what they create next
There is an unspoken and unavoidable charm with student theatre. It requires passion, dedication, and craftsmanship, which was shown remarkably not only from the actors on stage but also from the anticipant directorial and production teams awaiting hopeful judgment. The Halloween production of the Sherlock Holmes classic, The Hound of the Baskervilles, managed to show everything that is loved about amateur theatre and did so while being inconsolably charming.
With such an ambitious text choice, it would always be difficult to bring the vast and sinister moors of the West country to a small lecture theatre in Southampton. However, an audience was instantly swept away into somewhere entirely different from the cold and crisp Halloween nights, due in part to the low-level lighting and the stage being instantly and continuously overwhelmed by mist. This ambiance was constantly repeated throughout the performance, with the room plunged into the same darkness that the characters would experience during their night-time escapades. This part of the performance was heightened by the introduction of a torch that those investigating on the moors would use, which would shine directly into the audience’s eyes. This allowed for complete submergence into the world of the characters and almost made it feel like we were simply ghosts, floating around the haunting tale of murder and deceit. That being said, it was slightly overused and incredibly blinding, making the orange glow of the house seem like an onstage inferno to the dazed pupils in the audience. The staging was easily shifted from the inside of Baskerville Hall to the bleak and empty moorland with the help of a few white sheets. Despite a small number of un-prop-ular mishaps (the untameable lamppost and the eerily creaky step), the general effect was that this was as polished a performance as you could expect on the small stage, and the technical teams should be proud of the effect they managed to achieve.
The classic tale of misdirection was presented well by the cast, and despite having a few stilted moments and overexaggerated pauses, there were, of course, some standout performances. The detective duo, with Jake Collyer as Holmes and Benjamin Stein as Watson managed to achieve a delicate chemistry between the mastermind and his adored companion, and effectively guided an audience through what can be seen as a very complicated plot. Kaustubh Jalundhwala effortlessly presented the welcoming and fearless character of Sir Henry Baskerville, showing the largest change in emotion from the cheery host to the terrified target, who was able to call out frightfully to the audience, pulling sympathy and fear from those expecting an unsavoury attack on an immediate favourite. The cast seemed to have huge respect for their director as they were able to accurately portray the amount of uncertainty and intrigue that a ‘whodunnit?’ tale yearns for. This was contrasted very well with the high number of comedy elements spliced throughout, mostly led by Flora Gault as the appropriately coined obnoxious Mrs Frankland. The humour was also helped by the energetic entry of Jack Stapleton (played by Edward Patience), this obviously being before the dramatic reveal at the closing of the show. A final special mention is for the stellar appearance of “an incredibly unwieldy puppet” that made a small number of performances as the phantom hound. This showed the dedication and craftsmanship expected, and also added to the humour due to the fact it had to mysteriously disappear from sight despite being highly “unwieldy”.
This was an excellent start to the academic year and the prospective performances from the theatrical societies. It fit effortlessly with the time of year and was a perfect way to spend a spooky Halloween night.
Make sure to get your tickets for more theatrics at The Annex, with another Theatre Group production this time of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (27th-30th November), the comedy society’s sketch/improv show Where’s our budget? (8th-9th November), and the Showstoppers musical, Made in Dagenham (4th-7th December).