THEATRE REVIEW: ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ – Abney Park Cemetery (09 Lives)
A production of HOUND, in a Victorian graveyard…at night.
Described as “an eerie installation of sound, light and mystery”, this immersive promenade performance was certainly one of the best of the forty or so versions of the story that I have seen on stage and screen or heard on audio.
The venue, Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington, was opened in 1840 and was formed from the estates of Fleetwood House and Abney House, the latter of which had been the home of renowned non-conformist and hymn writer Isaac Watts. This association quickly made Abney the foremost burial ground for Dissenters – those practising their religion outside the established church.
Finding the cemetery with seconds to spare (Google Maps sending me towards the wrong gate), I joined a large group which was being given a safety briefing. Volunteers with torches would be accompanying us around the cemetery, with writer-director, Lil Warren, in the person of Cartwright, helping corral us around the site. Our narrator, Conan Doyle (Angus Chisholm) then made himself known, and we moved to the first stop, where we just in time to see Sir Charles Baskerville run past us in a fit of panic.
Next up was Baker Street, brilliantly conveyed by a rug and a sofa, and our first meeting with Holmes (Giorgio Galassi) and Watson (Gary Cain). They were soon joined by Doctor Mortimer (Dan de la Mott) and Sir Henry Baskerville (Andrew Phipps), the legend of the Hound was relayed, and then we were all moved down a path to the sound of first a puffing steam engine and then a horse-drawn trap, until finally we reached the production’s secret weapon - the oldest surviving non-denominational chapel in Europe, which was standing in for Baskerville Hall. The chapel designed by William Hosking FSA (1800 - 1861) was built in the 1840s, and its Gothic architecture perfectly represented Sir Henry’s ancestral home. The image of Barrymore the butler (Galassi again, in a black beard) standing in the entrance waiting for his new master is one that will remain with me. Moving inside ‘The Hall’, we met Mrs. Barrymore (Sarah Warren).
The production rattled along at a fine pace with moves between performance areas skilfully handled. We were introduced to Stapleton (who it took me several minutes to realise was being played by Dan de la Mott, so different did he look and sound to Dr. Mortimer), and his sister Beryl (Sarah Warren again). The soundscape both in the performance areas and on the walks between, added to the atmosphere, with even a slight drizzle of rain not affecting the enjoyment. Standing in a pitch black graveyard and hearing the cry of the Hound was most certainly a thrilling experience. They also took the sensible decision to not present us with the hound itself, only a light in the distance. Doyle’s narration allowed the elimination of unnecessary scenes (and meant that Sarah Warren didn’t need to give us her Laura Lyons). There was also excellent banter between our two guides, Doyle and Cartwright, only some of which seemed scripted. After ninety minutes of thrilling action, it was time for bows in ‘The Hall’ and for us to make our way back to the main gates and home.
I caught the final performance (29/09/2019), but I can recommend any future 09 Lives/Abney Park productions (I notice that they did Robin Hood last year – but in the light).