Sherlock Holmes; that infamous, scrupulous detective and his trusty sidekick Doctor Watson are two of the most adapted and well-known literary characters of all time.
With the storming success of the fast-paced BBC adaptation starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman fresh in many an audience member’s mind, this new play by Simon Reade after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle doesn’t quite live up to the versions of Sherlock we are used to.
There are snippets of the charismatic and witty Sherlock we have become accustomed to, but the action seemed slow and drawn out – as old-fashioned as the twentieth century setting of this new play. It was like opening up one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original leather-bound hardbacks off a dusty shelf and stepping inside.
The action is set after the prime detective years of Holmes and Watson. Old age and everything that comes with it is one of the main themes of the play. Holmes is hiding out in England’s south coast and, now in his 70s, it seems that his violin playing and crime solving days are over. Paranoia and arthritis have set in and the only thing that seems to keep him company are his bees.
We begin in 1922, where Dr John Watson is re-telling his adventures with Sherlock Holmes in a brand new BBC recording studio.
Mary Watson, now estranged from her husband, appears on Sherlock’s doorstep, asking him to return to 221B Baker Street to solve the mystery of the apparition of her dead son appearing before both her and Dr Watson. A nod, perhaps, to Arthur Conan Doyle’s dedication to spirituality in his later years – which ironically damaged his reputation.
And so the action ensues, except there is not much action in the first half of the play. The second half certainly steps up in terms of Drama but we are still left with stodgy dialogue to trudge through and a plot that doesn’t quite hit the mark, not something I expected from a play with such a prestigious title.
So, a quality cast is somewhat let down by an old fashioned script.
Dr Watson played by Timothy Kightley was the perfect older gentlemen – wonderfully bumbling and charismatic. It would’ve been nice to see the relationship between him and Sherlock portrayed more times throughout the play, but there was just no opportunity for it other than in one of the final scenes.
Robert Powell was a steady casting in the leading role of Sherlock Holmes – but the character itself was difficult to like. Perhaps that was the intention, but even a potentially annoying and over-zealous character like Sherlock Holmes has the potential to be loveable and charming, and that was not the case in this play.
The relationship between Sherlock and his brother Mycroft Holmes, played by Roy Sampson, was one of the most convincing scenes and where the plot seems to gain pace temporarily.
The three seasoned leads with a myriad of stage experience between them held the tension and acted in a notably sophisticated style that contrasted with some of the younger players who seemed to burst onto the stage in comparison.
But perhaps the point of this play is the contrast between the traditional and the modern.
The best part of the set was the dressing of 221B Baker Street, which really did feel as though we had stepped into Sherlock’s old London lodgings. The rest of the scenes were fairly simple, set against a black curtain with very little props, as if all of the design effort had gone into reproducing the iconic room.
A curtain, which rolled across the stage to change the scene was almost comedic at times as it rattled on rather slowly. In hindsight, however, it could be read as a nod to the theatrical design and finesse of the time the play was set, further highlighting the contrast between the old and the new.
From the brand new “British Broadcasting Company” transmitting sound through the airwaves into people’s homes, to brand new sound recording equipment, to screen projections – the cutting edge technology of the time is the theme that encompasses this play.
Whilst it might not be the most thrilling version of Sherlock Holmes you will ever see, it is a reminder of its roots; the simplicity of using a magnifying glass to solve a murder, the traditional plot twist, and the who-dun-it plot – that no one can deny audiences still love today.
Sherlock Holmes – The Final Curtain plays Curve Theatre, Leicester until Saturday 7th July. To book tickets visit Curve Online.
Photography by Nobby Clark