Mr Edward Whitfield, late to the 09 lives production of The House of the Baskervilles, in support of the Abney Park Trust, was seated at the breakfast table. I stood upon the hearth-rug and picked up the handwritten notes he’d made when listening, carelessly left on the mantle above the fire place. The papers were stained with soot and other dried substances I could not, and cared not to identify.
‘Well, Whitfield,’ said I, ‘what did you make of it?’
‘Alas,’ said he, compressing a square of breakfast pancake into the chamber of his pipe, subsequently lit, such was the manner in which he took the most important meal of the day, ‘I found it somewhat redundant. In a good cause, to be sure, and one was patient as a consequence, but it lacked the vocal dynamism and production quality one associates with the best radio adaptations – for example, the excellent 1998 capper to BBC Radio 4’s long running series.’
‘But Whitfield,’ said I, ‘surely credit must be given for the circumstance of the recording – the actors forced to play their parts at home, under lockdown. Does that not account for some disparity in sound levels. Can you not forgive performances that lack an interactive aura, when you know they were recorded in isolation – each on a separate Tor, as it were?’
‘Indubitably, my Dear Salmon,’ said Whitfield, amending his posture to allow the safe passage of vapour from pipe to lung as the smoked pancake began its downward trajectory, ‘and at first I thought the highly enunciated, declarative dialogue was attributable to the same constraint. Indeed, it was as if the cast were being paid by the phoneme – projecting across hitherto unimaginable distances. But I read, in that most excellent theatrical journal, View from the Cheap Seat, that this had been the mode of delivery at the show’s live forebear. A regrettable choice, as it endows each exchange with a heightened unreality that, though congruous with the uncanny nature of the story being told, becomes something of a distraction.’
‘Surely there was something to recommend it, old man?’
Whitfield considered the question, while preparing the broken remnants of a McDonald’s sausage and egg McMuffin for his pipe.
‘Yvonne Gilbert’s sound design was most gratifying,’ said he, further breaking the disc of processed pork meat into easy to burn nodules. ‘One got a sense of the Moor, of gothic atmosphere, but I’m inclined to think the show’s original appeal was the ability to partake in a real world location – to, for want of a better word, be immersed in the world of Conan Doyle – even if patrons had to forego Dartmoor for Stoke Newington. Without that gimmick, this is an unremarkable retelling of an oft-told tale. Indeed, all that’s fresh is the inclusion of Conan Doyle himself – a curious addition to the dramatis personae, as the story already has a fictional narrator, though I suppose one had to find a way to abridge the text somehow.’
I was now eying what remained of Whitfield’s McMuffin. ‘So a bit of a dog, old fellow?’
Whitfield grimaced. ‘Best leave the jokes to me, my dear. Now, if you’ll put something on, we can watch that online Old Vic production we discussed. I understand it’s exactly like being there, except one doesn’t develop deep vein thrombosis from the compression to both legs.’