Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

25/07/2015 - 29/08/2015

Production Details

Sherlock Holmes v/s the Powers of Evil

25th July – 29th August CIRCA ONE


The Hound of the Baskervilles has to be arguably the most famous detective story ever written. 

A blood curdling howl is heard across a cold, moonlit moor; the horrifying, spectral hound has claimed another victim… 

When Sir Charles Baskerville is found dead on his remote estate, in eerie, seemingly supernatural circumstances, Sherlock Holmes, the world-famous detective and his assistant, the ever-reliable Dr Watson are called upon to unravel the extraordinary mystery of The Hound of the Baskervilles

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s all time favourite tale, in an exhilarating adaptation by Clive Francis (Our Man in Havana), sees four actors playing all the parts in this gripping, classic tale of terror. 

The outstanding Circa cast includes William Kircher (The Hobbit- Dwarf Bifur), Andrew Foster (Equivocation), Nigel Collins (Wheeler’s Luck) and Gavin Rutherford (A Servant to Two Masters).

Following on from the success of A Servant to Two Masters, Ross Jolly directs this highly theatrical adaptation, providing a thrilling, ripping good night of fun, drama and suspense!

Legendary master sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, has not only been plagiarised, dramatised, televised, and serialised, but even developed into games, cartoons, and postage stamps. 

He has been acted, sung, danced and animated. Holmes and the faithful Dr Watson have been characterised by some of the greatest actors from Gielgud and Richardson to Abbot and Costello and most recently in a television series, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. 

‘…when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.’ Sherlock Holmes

“Chillingly atmospheric – this fun show will really thrill.” – The Observer

“A Cracking good yarn…Excellent…Highly enjoyable.” – Daily Telegraph

SEASON: 25th July – 29 August
Performance Times:
Tues & Wed 6.30pm, Thurs to Sat 8pm, Sunday 4pm
Tickets: $25 – $46
$25 SPECIALS – Fri 24th July 8pm, Sun 26th July 4pm
After show Q & A Tues 28th July
Bookings: (04) 801 7992

Pre-show dinner available at Encore – phone 801 7996


William Kircher: WATSON 1,
Watson, Holmes, Coach Driver, Barrymore, Perkins, Beryl Stapleton

Gavin Rutherford: WATSON 2,
Watson, Sir Henry, Cab Driver, Laura Lyons

Nigel Collins: WATSON 3
Watson, Mrs Hudson

Andrew Foster: WATSON 4 
Watson, Mortimer, Mrs Barrymore, Stapleton 

Lighting Designer:  Marcus McShane  
Set Design:  John Hodgkins
Costume Design:  Gillie Coxill
Original Music:  Nigel Collins
Cello Player:  Nigel Collins
Viola Player:  Peter Barber  
AV Design:  Johann Nortje

Theatre ,

A climax to savour in brilliantly staged funny show

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 27th Jul 2015

“This could be a three pipe problem,” says Sherlock Holmes as he sits in his armchair to ponder the curse placed on the Baskerville family, while three Dr Watsons hover in attendance.  

Yes, in one or two scenes there are three Dr Watsons on stage at the same time. If you have seen stage versions of The 39 Steps, Travels with My Aunt, and Our Man in Havana – all of which have been produced at Circa – you will recognise the formula: four actors play all the roles.  

This is a challenge and great fun for the actors, while the theatre’s budget won’t be stretched by hiring only four actors, and audiences will enjoy the comedy and theatricality of the entertainment. 

The stage is dominated by Johan Nortje’s large and eerily effective black and white AVs of Dartmoor, 221b Baker Street, Baskerville Hall, the foggy streets of London, while Dartmoor mist seeps onto the stage at every opportunity. 

Also, on the technical side, John Hodgkins spacious set leaves plenty of room for action on the moors, while the sound effects of Ross Jolly, Nigel Collins and Paul Stent create blood-curdling howls in the middle of dark and stormy nights as well as a perfectly timed billiard game.  

Strangely, the production, while not eschewing the comedic possibilities on offer, seems to play it almost straight. Part of the problem is that there is a lot of exposition and this is dealt with by the actors shouting a great deal of it at the audience. 

Gavin Rutherford’s Sir Henry Baskerville is followed immediately by his Cockney hansom cab driver in one of the best comic scenes, while Andrew Foster has his moments catching butterflies on Dartmoor and Nigel Collins is a convincing housekeeper, Mrs Hudson. William Kircher plays a hearty Holmes and five other characters including a sepulchral caretaker of Baskerville Hall. 

But the best is saved for the climax when the play moves into high action and the villain gets his comeuppance in a brilliantly staged and very funny sequence which brought cheers, applause and laughter from the audience.


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Do we not aspire to more than a ride on a bandwagon?

Review by John Smythe 26th Jul 2015

This year the Circa Theatre programme cover features a quote from American actor Willem Dafoe, a founding member of The (very different) Wooster Group: “Great theatre is about challenging how we think and encouraging us to fantasize about a world we aspire to.” So how does this reconcile with the Circa-generated productions in Circa One so far this year?

The homegrown Seed certainly got the audience thinking about the realities versus the fantasies of procreation. A musical inspired by an incomplete Charles Dickens novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, was a funny and frivolous spectacle that lacked any of the insights into social injustice that Dickens was famous for. The high entertainment-factor of A Servant to Two Masters was garnished with just enough character complexity and social commentary bite to possibly prompt a thought or two about how we live our lives. But none really “challeng[ed] how we think”.

Nor does this Clive Francis adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes story, The Hound of the Baskervilles. Arthur Conan Doyle wrote it in 1901 (the year before he was knighted), to appease the masses distraught at his having killed off the master detective along with his nemesis Moriarty in The Final Problem).

This four-actor version is not to be confused with the much more farcical three-actor adaptation by Steven Canny and John Nicholson, which Ross Jolly also directed last year for Centrepoint in Palmerston North, and which Christchurch’s Court produced last year and Dunedin’s Fortune will stage next month.

Willem Dafoe also said, “A lot of critics are lazy. They don’t want to look closely and analyze something for what it is. They take a quick first impression and then rush to compare it to something they’ve seen before.” So having not seen the spoof version, I’ll try to resist further comparison.

Nor should I compare this show withthe farcical boy-zone hijinks of The 39 Steps which Circa produced in 2009, and which a number of people recall fondly in the foyer, post-show. Likewise the more satirical but over-narrated Our Man in Havana (2011), also adapted by Clive Francis (from the Graham Greene novel) and directed by Ross Jolly – which, by the way, was the only play in this genre to allow a female cast member, albeit a solitary one.

The point of difference (if that’s not a rush to comparison) in this The Hound of the Baskervilles is that all four male actors – William Kircher, Gavin Rutherford, Nigel Collins and Andrew Foster – play the story’s narrator, Dr John Watson, collectively when they are not playing one of the dozen other characters.

It is quite amusing to see them conversing with each other although this is more by way of sharing the dialogue than, for example, debating with himself, which might have been more interesting. But it seems this adaptation is too doggedly faithful to the original to explore such a possibility, despite setting up the ideal device for doing so.

Given the Francis version does not trade in broad caricatures, insanely quick changes and fast-paced action, it presumably aims to entertain primarily through the suspenseful imperatives of the mystery thriller, with performance and production skills being appreciated as the means to that end. But the theatrical device of multiple Watsons who impersonate other characters in order to tell the story – including quaintly coy titter-inducing female characters – tends to work against our becoming imaginatively involved to the extent of suspending our disbelief, let alone empathising.

The Canny/Nicholson version begins, I believe, with the horrific spectre of the titular Hound and the consequent demise of Sir Charles Baskerville (sorry Willem). The tone of this production is set with the portentous cello-playing of Nigel Collins as his shadow looms large on the cyclorama behind. Then we are at Baker Street, setting the everyday scene with quips about sausage poisoning and analysing a gentleman’s cane until its owner, one Dr James Mortimer, calls to report on the death of his friend Sir Charles. Thus we learn of the legendary hound which has returned Dartmoor – where, incidentally, an escaped convict lurks – to terrorise Baskerville Hall.

William Kircher plays Holmes as dynamic and affable, amiably showing up Watson’s shortcomings and barely hinting at the intellectual elitism or sociopathic lack of empathy so intriguingly explored by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss in the TV series starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (sorry Willem).

While that may be down to Francis’s writing, I do sense his script envisages greater differentiation between Holmes the Dreamer and Holmes the Man of Action. But Kircher does have an on-stage presence that compels our interest. His other characters – principally the rather eerie Barrymore who, with his wife, keeps Baskerville Hall running – are suitably differentiated and some are recalled with a playful glee when they turn out to have been [spoiler averted].  

Gavin Rutherford’s major non-Watson character is Sir Henry Baskerville, who believes himself to be the sole surviving heir to the family fortunes. Back from Canada, he hands over an anonymous note warning him to stay away from the Hall – so Watson is deputed to accompany him there. Rutherford’s canny Cab driver and delicate Laura Lyons are also agreeably delineated.

Andrew Foster offers a strong contrast between the loud and confident Dr Mortimer and the much quieter butterfly collector, Jack Stapleton, a neighbour of the Baskervilles. His Mrs Barrymore is also played for truth so gets her share of laughs.

Along with his cello and sterling service as Watson, Nigel Collins plays Holmes’s housekeeper Mrs Hudson, who is not given enough to allow a strong character to register. Nevertheless it is good to see Collins back on stage all these years after the memorable Wheeler’s Luck (which premiered before Theatreview was born).

If it is not exactly challenging fare for the audience it is a challenge for the actors and their director, Ross Jolly. They step up to it with alacrity and professional flair, as individuals and as an ensemble.

John Hodgkins’ ramped and multi-levelled set with a calico screen and side legs, and sliding panels to denote interiors, is the canvas on which Marcus McShane’s lighting design and Johan Nortje’s AV designs paint the story’s pictures, abetted by sound from Nigel Collins, Ross Jolly and Paul Stent – suitably blood-curdling as and when required.

While it could benefit from being a whole lot spookier, there are a couple of strong dramatic moments – including the climactic one, which is a real crowd-pleaser.

So if you haven’t had enough of Sherlock Holmes and want to discover or reacquaint yourself with The Hound of the Baskervilles – in the wake of 11 films and a TV serial of that story alone – the bandwagon has pulled into Circa and awaits your bum.

A question does remain as to whether we want Wellington’s leading professional theatre to produce so much unchallenging fare. Certainly they are bringing in work developed elsewhere – not through the resources of Circa and the theatre Artists Charitable Trist (TACT) – that come closer to Dafoe’s criteria.

Even if the powers-that-be at Circa regard it as crucial to exploit the whodunit /suspense /thriller genre, why just regurgitate what everyone else has been feeding on? Why not commission a Kiwi writer to develop an ensemble adaptation of a Ronald Hugh Morrieson story, for example, with women included in the line up of course, to prove we are not mindlessly reclaiming the values of the eras we have nostalgia for?

Even better, how about checking Playmarket’s bourgeoning treasure-trove of unproduced New Zealand plays waiting in vain to be read let alone produced? The best-funded New Zealand theatre companies are surely honour-bound to make themselves aware of what is on offer and take the initiative in ensuring the good ones are produced. That surely is the least the New Zealand tax payer (and Lotto player) can aspire to for its investment. 



John Smythe July 27th, 2015

I have been remiss in not mentioning Gillie Coxill’s excellent costume designs. Of course the deerstalker hat has long since been discredited as Holmes’ favoured headwear but given this production celebrates the myth of the myth and in no way seeks to revitalise it (as per Cumberbatch and Freeman), fair enough.  Most impressive are the costumes Coxill has created for the briefly appearing characters. They look complete, instantly capture an essence, yet must be donned and removed in seconds given the quickness of some of the changes.

K. C. Kelly July 27th, 2015

Hi John,

There's no doubting the merits of HOUND but two simple facts about what's on, where - (Court I notice is doing LADYKILLER) - is the elephant in the room:  Ticket price.

At $46 a ticket, it's impossible. Even at the reduced price of $25 for my equity-inspired leisure card, going to plays is VERY difficult. I'm better at BATS, but even that takes a toll.

The Demographic has moved and aged  ... and sadly we are the ones sitting in the mobility product. CNZ has "proven" - at great pubic expense-  that people aren't going to "the theatre" as much anymore. And, if I'm even only partially right in my estimation, established theatre will continute to offer up a similar diet to those "in care."

It's always been a tough job - programming for the resident rep - and it's getting even more difficult in an era of Netflix and the  cheaper-by-the-month discretionary dollar.

A broad view of what's on, where and to what commercial success might prove very interesting to all of us who still hold the art form dear and wonder - even in an era of tenths of a percentage point - how to keep it alive. 



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