Writer: Simon Reade
Director: David Grindley
Reviewer: Gareth Davies
If restless spirits are detected around Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre this week, they could reasonably be ascribed to the tormented soul of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gyrating in his grave in horror at this latest incarnation of his literary creation.
Taking Doyle’s famous infatuation was spiritualism towards the end of his life and overlaying such a transformation onto Sherlock Holmes, Simon Reade’s play struggles to wring much drama from an intriguing premise. Confronted with a corpse on his own private beach as he tends his bees, retired consulting detective Holmes (Robert Powell) also receives an unexpected visit from the wife of his former partner. Mary Watson (Liza Goddard) describes a strange turn of events in which her dead son appears to her, as she and Dr Watson (Timothy Kightley) live estranged in the rooms at 221b Baker Street.
That both the corpse and Mary’s visit occur on the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Holmes’ former arch nemesis Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls seems an unlikely coincidence, and so an unconvincing and unsatisfying story, devoid of much actual drama, unfolds at a glacial pace in a production that seems unsure as to whether it’s a playful homage, modern satire or faithful reinvention of Doyle’s original stories.
Both Powell and Goddard are unable to shake the feeling that they are merely going through the motions (an apt metaphor for a production that borders on execrable) as Reade’s text thuds along, alternating between cliché and exposition. Neither a procedural mystery nor psychological study of age and consequence, there are plenty of suggestions for something more rounded and interesting which never breaks the surface of a predominantly turgid text.
Sherlock Holmes retains the Guinness World Record for most portrayals on stage and screen of any fictional literary character, yet this production brings precisely nothing new or imaginative to the role. Sans deerstalker or violin, we do witness (briefly) Holmes’s drug habit, though to no dramatic end. He lacks the maniacal narcissism of the recent TV Sherlock, despite characters constantly telling him how vain and self-interested he is. If the character didn’t have the name Sherlock Holmes, it would be hard to identify him as such from Powell’s performance.
Nor is there any plot to speak of. The initial corpse on the seashore set-up is squandered on a tale that yields little intrigue. A bout of incredulous exposition in the second half does little to quench any sense of mystery, and a truly toe-curling pre-curtain twist makes the audience nostalgic for the relative interest of the yawnsome séance which represents the story’s narrative crescendo.
Everything aside from the writing is merely average, with Jonathan Fensom’s set and Jason Taylor’s lighting occasionally combining to create some exquisite visual moments. The curtain which sweeps across between scenes is a nice thematic touch that brings a sense of style to what would otherwise be awkward changes of scenery, if only we couldn’t seen the stagehands scuttling behind it so frequently.
The opportunity to revisit a popular fictional character in a new setting – the story takes place in the 1920s, after the entries from Doyle’s canon – is one that many fans will relish, but they risk feeling that it may have been better to stay at home with a DVD of some of the better known Baker Street regulars instead.
Runs until 2 June 2018 | Image: Contributed