Newbury's Watermill reopening a triumph over adversity
Live theatre has returned to the Watermill, with the opening of The Hound of the Baskervilles in the beautiful grounds of the theatre.
The Hound of the Baskervilles at The Watermill, Bagnor
From 21 May 21 - June 9
Review by JON LEWIS
I felt a palpable sense of renewal visiting a theatre again for the first time since late February last year. Watching excellent theatre online has been a godsend during the pandemic, but seeing the Watermill’s bar, restaurant and front of house staff at work, audiences sitting around tables having lunch, drinks or ice cream, and actors performing in front of us on a makeshift stage in the garden, was special.
During the Hound of the Baskervilles matinee clouds of poplar fluff blew magically across the garden as if the Watermill had become a snow globe that had been shaken. An usher sitting near me was armed with an umbrella to shoo away swans that glide by on the river Lambourn. The sun shone warmly, summer finally here.
The production is a revival from last summer, with two of the original actors in the cast. Director Abigail Pickard Price and last year’s cast have devised a drama as gossamer light as the poplar fluff swirling around the stage. Arthur Conan Doyle’s drama about a murder in Devon, a monster hound prowling the moors and an escaped convict on the loose is turned into a Gonzo Moose-style comedy full of meta-theatre and social distancing jokes. Much of the fun comes from seeing Rosalind Lailey, James Mack and Roxana Bartle multi-task, switching from character to character with the change of a hat, or the adoption of a new accent. The staging is simple, like touring mummers in a village square, effectively making connections with the audience.
The cast state that their task in bringing this play to audiences is to save British theatre: a mock-heroic stance that sees Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson as female sleuths and Mack taking on female characters. It’s more pantomime than a serious statement on gender politics and casting, but with a female director and stage management team, it’s a positive sign for the future. The plot is tongue-in-cheek with the intention to amuse a family audience, reviving the spirits after months of lockdown, encouraging long-missed communal laughter. In this, the production fully succeeds and you leave impressed by the Watermill’s creativity in adversity.