Writer: Mark Catley
Director: Nikolai Foster
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels
Once again, the exploits of the legendary occupant of 221b Baker Street are the basis of a stage production. This time it is BAFTA-nominated Mark Catley who presents his take on the character created by Sir Conan Doyle. It takes a brave author to bring back Sherlock Holmes in yet another new persona, and that Catley has dared to do so is to his credit.
Sadly, he has over-stretched himself with an over complex format and plot. Melodrama is a genre of its own and needs to be treated as such if it is to succeed on all fronts, but here the genre is blurred, with a start-up musical rendering by Kerry Peers with a Cockney accent and a song reminiscent of Eliza Doolittle. Additionally, music throughout is too dominant.
Having said that, this production by the West Yorkshire Playhouse has its merits. Not least of these is the setting by RADA-trained Michael Taylor, who gives us an 1890s London with gas light and fog that is faithful to the original, although overuse of the revolving stage is confusing at times.
The action takes place two years after the Reichenback Falls (Conan Doyle’s last episode). The World’s Greatest Detective is portrayed as an almost psychopathic weirdo with demons of his own to fight, listless and bankrupt, reluctantly thrust back into the arena when a the mysterious beauty Irene Adler (who features in the original stories) interjects herself into his life and his brother Mycroft is arrested for treason.
Portraying Holmes was never going to be an easy remit for Jason Durr, hesitant in his portrayal in the earlier scenes, Durr becomes more assured in his performance as the play progresses.In the scene where Holmes, curled into a foetal ball, takes out the familiar pipe as once more he succumbs to the power of opium, Durr has insinuated himself under the skin of the part to an impressive degree and must be congratulated for this. However, he must beware of allowing the multiple usage of magic tricks in the scene in the Promenade of Wonders to overwhelm performance. A macabre attempt at comedy in the scene in the mortuary fails to amuse.
Playing opposite Durr, as Holmes’ sidekick the faithful Dr Watson, Andrew Hall gives a clear-cut portrayal of a character that has become iconic in its own right. Catley has interjected a verbal questioning of the relationship between the two men, suggesting that there may have been a sexual element there, but this is to some extent a blind alley.
For Tanya Franks, the leading female rôle of Irene Adler is a major challenge, and one to which this fine actress rises magnificently. On the night of this review, Franks was the only member of the cast whose diction was always audible. Elsewhere there was the occasional lengthy pause. Andrew Langtree, who plays the journalist who dodges Holmes’ footsteps, is persuasive in the rôle, but needs to pay attention to clarity when speaking fast in a Cockney accent.
It is always a pleasure to see that experienced actor Victor McGuire, who gives us a portly Inspector Lestrade with a bluff exterior but a soft heart, providing a much-needed comedic touch amid the gloom.