Quite how I’d arrived in Dartmoor in the dead of night, the wind howling in my ears and the incessant pounding of the rain threatening to engulf me, I did not know. The strange thing was that I could have sworn I was in Camden only five minutes ago, sat in a little theatre awaiting the Veni Vidi Theatre Company’s staging of its radio play Hound of the Baskervilles.
I opened my eyes and wished that I had not closed them, for the frenzied energy with which the actors leap about the space, creating one sound effect after the other to produce this Gothic Horror atmosphere, is a thrill to watch. Inspired by the broadcasts of the Orson Welles Mercury Theatre Company, infamous for its 1938 production of War of the Worlds, Hound of the Baskervilles is essentially a performance of a performance. We are caught between two worlds, immersing ourselves within the 1930s radio studio and its colourful voice actors only then to be transported again into the Sherlock Holmes performance that the characters have come together to create.
The way that the tension between these two worlds is explored proves to be one of the play’s key strengths. Establishing their characters as the audience take their seats, the tiny hints of power struggles and relationships between the 1930s cast as they launch into their radio production is a treat to watch. From stepping over each other’s lines to frantically gesturing to each other for prompts, their antics as actors playing actors provides a great deal of comedy in a production already rich with laughter.
We are given further glimpses of the voice actor characters at the end and during the interval, ingeniously instigated by an announcement that the BBC has interrupted its production to declare the beginning of the Second World War. And yet so well developed and intriguing were the characters within this short space of time that I longed to know even more about them; their relationships and exchanges could have filled an entire separate play.
For a play based on sound, The Hound of the Baskervilles is also visually exhausting. It takes time to divert your attention between listening to the dialogue of the actors at the front whilst simultaneously delighting in the actors behind creating the sound effects. One could argue that exposing the methods behind these radio productions takes away part of its magic and yet one cannot help but to rejoice at its wild inventiveness as household objects such as a bag of rice and a bucket become instruments in a torrent of rain or a shriek of wind.
The sheer playfulness of The Hound of the Baskervilles, matched with its excellent retelling of the Sherlock Holmes classic, makes this a production not to be missed. Having stepped into the glamour of the 1930s and then into the gleefully gothic mists of Dartmoor, coming back out into a Camden high street after the show makes for a slightly disappointing return. And yet what does The Hound of the Baskervilles teach us if not the art of creating entire worlds armed only with a couple of old tin cans and a whistle. I certainly know what I’ll be doing with my evenings from now.
The Hound of the Baskervilles is playing at Theatro Technis until 12 May. For more information and tickets, see the Theatro Technis website.