Following a successful run for its locally relocated The War of the Worlds, the latest offering from Northern Stage’s NORTH programme is Douglas Maxwell’s smart adaptation of a Conan Doyle classic.
NORTH supports the development of North East theatre talent and, based on this outing, the four-strong cast of emerging actors (three of whom take on multiple roles) have promising futures.
Jake Wilson Craw’s Watson, the linchpin of the action, is stolid without being stuffy and has good chemistry with James Gladdon’s sinuous, mercurial Holmes, who slinks around like a sulky cat, both wary of and wanting attention. (Refreshingly, Gladdon keeps his northern accent – having given us a Geordie Scrooge and a North East-set Martian invasion, Northern Stage has an impressive tradition of re-imagining the classics in a local voice).
Rebecca Tebbett is a bright-eyed Henry Baskerville and soulful Miss Stapleton, while Siobhan Stanley brings a robust bluffness to Dr Mortimer and Mrs Franland, the local gentlewoman with a family secret.
Amy Watts’ compact set – a slanted table that serves as desk, dinner table, train and miniature landscape – achieves a lot in the small studio space, and there are some genuinely unsettling effects, with the Hound itself particularly effective (lighting and sound designers Michael Morgan and Jeremy Bradfield, respectively, deserve praise).
It’s hard to do a fresh take on such a familiar (and oft-satirised) story, but under the sure hand of director Jake Smith, the production strikes a nice balance of having enough self-aware humour to make the whole thing fun, without undermining the essential spookiness of the tale.