A STUDY IN SCARLET
by Arthur Conan Doyle adapted by Lila Whelan and Greg Freeman.
Southwark Playhouse (The Little) 77-85 Newington Causeway SE1 6BD To 12 April 2014.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm.
Run s 2hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7407 0234.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 22 March.
Theatrically inventive, free-wheeling yet faithful adaptation.
In both this, the first of his four Sherlock Holmes novels, and the last The Valley of Fear, Arthur Conan Doyle creates a crime mystery in contemporary England before reaching back to events years before in America, providing the motive for murder.
In Valley corrupt trade unions lead to killings; in Study it’s corrupted religion among a group within the Mormons. This adaptation acknowledges modern audience sophistication by interleaving Study’s two elements. The American scenes, with their hypocrisy and threats of force come across with absolute seriousness, made immediate by the theatricality of Nicholas Thompson’s production for Tacit Theatre Company, with the mystery evoked at the start by the shadowy lighting from Leo Steele.
Modern Baker Street is a barrel of laugh in contrast. The actors are mostly musicians and they create a fine squawking for tense moments either side of the Atlantic, plus some merry if slightly distorted ones for the London adventure, while Philip Benjamin’s Holmes offers a passable fast section of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.
Tacit add a company credit for the adaptation alongside the writers. Their show feels absolutely made for the stage. All the important plot is there if not necessarily in the right order as the narrative spins back and forth, holding attention with modern audiences used to important information being held back and to assembling the storyline from fragments.
The American story, earnest and tightly played, is the more straightforward )faith communities that hold their members virtual prisoners are still around). In London, deft plot touches make moments more action-based, further enlivened by Benjamin’s Holmes and Edward Cartwright’s straight-backed, wide-eyed Watson, alternately confident and surprised. Conan Doyle’s Holmes claims to be in Watson’s debt for ideas; here the debt adds a financial dimension, creating another human detail.
The stolid English police suit the actors concerned less well than their emotion-charged American characters. But in a male world Stephanie Prior creates a contrasting female vulnerability, while Holly Ashton is equally adept as concerned American mother, loud working-class Sally, and a Mrs Hudson used to Sherlock’s ways but nobody’s fool when it comes to the rent.
Mrs Hudson/Hannah Ferrier/Sally Sawyer: Holly Ashton.
Sherlock Holmes/Elder Drebber: Philip Benjamin.
Rance/Hope: Elliott Harper.
Gregson/Drebson: Rhys King.
Lestrade/Stangerson: Paul Lincoln.
Dr Watson/Ferrier: Edward Cartwright.
Lucy: Stephanie Prior.
Director: Nicholas Thompson.
Designer/Costume: Katherine Heath.
Lighting: Leo Steele.
Sound/Music: Ella Wahlström/Annabelle Brown.
Fight director: Ronin Traynor.