Writer: Brian Clemens
Director: Patric Kearns
Reviewer: Mark Clegg
Remember the film Murder by Decree where Christopher Plummer plays fictional Sherlock Holmes investigating the real-life Whitechapel Murders? Well Brian Clemens certainly seemed to remember it when putting pen to paper for this, the latest play from the prolific Talking Scarlet productions. As with many other dramatic interpretations of the Ripper murders, this play takes (without credit) much of its plot from Stephen Knight’s book Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution. The added presence of Conan Doyle’s (also unforgivably uncredited in the programme) detective means that Murder by Decree is immediately recalled, although since the actual truth behind the murders was never discovered, a different solution would certainly have been nice.
Samuel Clemens’ Sherlock is written and played straight which proves that without his usual quirks, Holmes is a pretty bland character. It falls to George Telfer’s Dr Watson to carry the show, helped as he is by possessing every good line in the script as well as an unerring talent to milk them for all they are worth. Elsewhere in the cast Lara Lemon plays Mrs Mead, a completely superfluous to the plot psychic who seems only there to try and add some romantic interest. More successful are Kim Taylforth’s amusing Mrs Hudson and Andrew Paul, Neil Roberts and Michael Kirk as sinister suspects.
A simple set supported by projections represents all of the many locations for the story. This is quite effective most of the time but also throws up some unfortunate technical issues including jarring scene transitions and the projections preventing blackouts (which elicits giggles in the audience as ‘dead bodies’ get up and walk off stage in silhouette)
Thoughts of Whitechapel in 1888 evoke visions of gas-lit cobbled streets and swirling London peasoupers. Sadly this production falls at this hurdle by being almost completely devoid of atmosphere. The lighting direction needs to be bolder while the intrusive music needs to be totally rethought. When incidental music drowns out dialogue, there is something amiss somewhere. And perhaps it is a cliché, but a fog machine would work wonders for this production.
At one point Holmes deducts that a visiting character spends much of his time sitting down as the seat of his trousers is badly worn. Amazing deduction indeed considering that the character in question wears a long coat that he never removes in Holmes’s presence. Add innocuous references to a teddy bear and a photograph in a newspaper (both years in the future in 1888) to make a general lack of attention to detail in both the writing and the direction very apparent. These kinds of schoolboy errors? Elementary, my dear Watson.
A clunky and often boring script recycles a plot seen several times before. Some good performances and the odd funny one-liner help carry what should be (but isn’t) an intriguing, exciting and atmospheric yarn. A sad waste of two of Victorian London’s most famous residents.
Runs until: Saturday 11th July