Play by Simon Reade, after Arthur Conan Doyle
Director: David Grindley
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels
This new production from the estimable Theatre Royal Bath brings together two experienced actors who have performed together many times over the years: Robert Powell, who, at the age of 74 is still remembered for his iconic portrayal of Jesus of Nazareth in the 1977 Franco Zeffireli film, and Liza Goddard. With such a pairing, how could Simon Reade’s adaptation of Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain fail?
Conan Doyle is a hard act to follow. Insofar as atmosphere, particularly in the scenes set in Holmes’ old stamping ground at 221B Baker Street, Reade’s take is faithful to the original, capturing – in the literal sense with clouds of pipe smoke – the dark undertones and nuances of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Where it falls down is in the opening scenes. Surely, even within the confines of a touring production, this could have been achieved quite simply by a country style backdrop, instead of a green curtain swishing back and forth.
The plot centres around a retired Sherlock, older and paranoid about losing his skills, spending his time in introspection or fly fishing and playing his Stradivarius violin at his home on the South Coast. He keeps bees, too. His secluded existence comes to an end when the body of a young woman is found literally on his doorstep – in this case the adjoining beach. Not only that, but shortly afterwards he is drawn into a new mystery; Mary, the wife of his former partner Dr Watson seeks Holmes’ help when, having tracked him down to his ‘secret’ retreat she tells him that she has seen her son James who has been dead for many years, peering through the window of 221B Baker Street.
Powell obviously relishes the role of Holmes and is totally believable as he prowls around the living room in Baker Street, adding a comedic touch at times, such as when he takes to the couch so that his old partner Watson can practice his newfound skills as a psychoanalyst.
Reade’s Mary Watson is a woman of her time – which means that she strongly supports the suffragette movement to the extent of dressing in men’s clothing, i.e. trousers. Those who remember Goddard from her Skippy the Bush Kangaroo back in the days when TV was the small screen and not the giant monolith we have today will possibly not have known what a fine actress Goddard is – her Mary is a gem, although a far cry from the more familiar one of the Conan Doyle stories. Timothy Kightley gives a thoughtful and well-rounded performance as Watson.
As one might expect with a Sherlock Holmes mystery, it is necessary when writing a review of the play to be aware of the necessity of not saying anything that will give the game away. This reviewer can say, however, that while the first half is at times over-wordy in explanation, the tension builds in the second half, with a cleverly devised séance leading up to the final denouement. The ending comes as a shock – which is how it should be, although the value of the addendum which closes the performance is questionable.
Runs until Saturday 30 June 2018 | Image: Contributed