Writer: Simon Reade
Director: David Grindley
Reviewer: Dave Smith
Sherlock Holmes apparently holds the Guinness World Record for the most portrayed literary human character on film and television. He may not be such a regular on stage but, nonetheless, you still have a lot of preconceptions and iconic portrayals to deal with, especially if you’re trying to do something new with the character, as Simon Reade is here, having been commissioned so to do by Theatre Royal Bath.
The initial signs are promising, however; director David Grindley (whose previous credits include a deservedly lauded revival of Journey’s End) has a solid track record and much-loved veterans of stage and screen Robert Powell and Liza Goddard are also along for the ride. The premise of the story is intriguing, too, involving an ageing Holmes seemingly failing to come to terms with his advancing years (in stark contrast to the younger, sexier Holmeses we’ve got used to in recent years) as he gets left behind by the new technologies of the early 20th century.
Unfortunately, the final result is considerably less than the sum of its parts.
It’s 1922 and Sherlock Holmes (Robert Powell) has retired to the south coast with his Stradivarius, his rheumatism and high levels of paranoia, the latter not helped by the sudden appearance of a dead body on the beach right behind his home. No sooner has he supplied a convincing explanation of the death to the local constabulary, than he receives a visit from Mary Watson (Liza Goddard), estranged wife of his former partner Dr John Watson (Timothy Kightley). She tells him that she has seen their supposedly dead son at 221B Baker Street, where Watson has once again taken up residence in order to practice the modern art of psychoanalysis, and asks Holmes to come to London and investigate. Discerning a connection, Holmes heads to London to solve both mysteries.
The first disappointment is (most of) the cast. Robert Powell is pretty much treading water as Holmes, while Liza Goddard looks almost entirely at sea throughout. As the two main characters, sharing a considerable amount of stage time together, they fail to raise any signs of tension or chemistry. In fact, only when Holmes and Dr Watson share stage time is any genuine life breathed into the piece, and it’s for their exchanges that Reade and Grindley seem to have used up all their best ideas, with credit due to Timothy Kightley for being the only one of the main cast to seem genuinely invested in the project (although Anna O’Grady also manages to do well as Miss Hudson, the Watsons’ housekeeper and daughter of the more famous Mrs Hudson – yes, that is the level of invention on show).
Jonathan Tensom’s Baker Street set is fine as far as it goes, but for any scenes set elsewhere, and there are quite a few, it seems that a backdrop of a plain curtain is as much effort as can be drummed up.
As for the mystery, there really isn’t much on offer. Any twists in the tale are telegraphed well in advance, leaving the play to dwindle towards what looks like is going to be an inevitable and underwhelming conclusion, before taking us all by surprise with a genuinely bizarre and bewildering final scene, a real ‘what were they thinking?’ moment.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes and of some of the most enduring detective fiction in history, famously lost a lot of his considerable credibility for his belief in fairies and the spirit world. Believing in this poor show demonstrates an equal lack of critical nous on the part of many of those involved.
Runs Until 9 June 2018 and on tour | Image: Contributed