Ric Reid as Dr. Watson and Damien Atkins as Sherlock Holmes

How do you dust off an old classic and make it engaging and fresh for a 21st Century audience. The Shaw Festival has done just that in its gem of production THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES. Many have heard the title but may not be familiar with the details of the intriguingly convoluted case that Sherlock Holmes and his pal Dr. Watson take on.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a master of this genre and his BASKERVILLES was written after he had killed off Sherlock Holmes. His public was so enraged that he wrote this story starring Holmes yet again, but had to predate the time period so as not to lose verisimilitude. The Shaw Festival has a history of producing mysteries, but hasn't programmed one in a number of years. Happily the version of BASKERVILLES running now has been cleverly adapted by R. Hamilton Wright and David Pichette. This duo includes the requisite story line but imbues it with the perfect amount of wit, where the jokes are never out of place and the characters all the more human and endearing.

Holmes and Watson are called in to investigate the mysterious death of Lord Baskerville on the moors of Devonshire. His sole heir has inherited his fortune and is unbelieving of the tale of the massive hound that stalks the moors and may have killed his uncle and others. Throw in a run away convicted killer, a beautiful woman, a creepy husband and wife butler and cook, a bevy of family portraits. and some neurotic neighbors and your dramatis personae is complete.

Director Craig Hall comes from Calgary's Vertigo Theatre, which calls itself the world's only season-based Mystery Theatre. Hall takes note of every detail or red herring in the script, and in doing so makes it very clear that no one is above suspicion. Each character embodies enough mysterious behavior from the outset to keep the audience on their toes-- Why did she glance at that? Why is he twitchy in his presence? What does that reference mean? Well you get the point. Hall's staging has a cinematic quality about it that is aided by the Alan Brodie's superb lighting.

Damien Watkins as Sherlock Holmes

The Festival has assembled a fine cast, led by the the eccentric but charming Damien Atkins as Sherlock. Atkins places his own fantastic stamp on the role, emerging as a socially awkward savant who lives and breathes for his next case. In Holmes, we see the darker side of the Victorian era as he considers drugs as a cure for the melancholy he feels when not at work.

Ric Reid is the exasperated Dr. Watson who is called upon to lead the investigation, leaving the whereabouts of Holmes a great mystery in and of itself for much of the second act. Kristopher Bowman plays the dashing Sir Henry Baskerville, right off the boat from Canada to assume his heirly duties at Baskerville Hall. Bowman is galant but is a fish out of water in stark contrast to the stuffy Englishmen he meets on the moors. His desire to be called Hank says it all. Natasha Mumba is the love interest neighbor Beryl who lives with her brother Jack (played by Gray Powell). Her coy character is prone to histrionics rarely seen in present day theatre, but Ms. Mumba is convincing in her depiction of this unhinged woman. Meanwhile Mr. Powell is thoroughly enjoying himself as offbeat lepidopterist, who is overly protective of his sister.

Designer Dana Osborne's fantastic sets are complemented by the evocative projections of Jamie Nesbitt. This modern design concept allows moving projections placed upon unfurling screens to suggest different locales and movement throughout the house, as well as to augment the onstage set pieces. Trap doors are used to great effect that can't be discussed more without giving too much away. Osborne's lovely costumes are picture perfect. With foggy scenes played upon craggy rocks of the moors, one can't help be swept away into this superbly executed whodunnit. Make that trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake and put on your thinking cap-- you won't be disappointed!

THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES plays at the Festival Theatre of the Shaw Festival through October 27,2018. Contact for more information.

Photos by Emily Cooper

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From This Author Michael Rabice

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