The Secret of Sherlock Holmes
by Jeremy Paul.

Duchess Theatre 3-5 Catherine Street WC2B 5LA.
Mon-Sat 8pm Mat Wed 3pm Sat 4pm.
Runs:1hr 40mins One interval.

TICKETS: 0844 412 4659.
Review: Carole Woddis 20 July.

Timeless or throwback?
Six weeks ago I was in this theatre seeing The Fantasticks, a sweet little show from the Sixties. How cruelly the West End delivers its coup de grace. The Fantasticks was soon dispatched; in its place has come another odd little throwback to a bygone age, The Secret of Sherlock Holmes.

Timothy Ramsden reviewed it in March, at Richmond, when Dr Watson was played by Philip Franks; now replaced by Robert Daws. Two-handers can be intriguing. But for the first half of this short evening, I did wonder if I’d time-travelled backwards to another theatrical age, so antediluvian its style and sensibility.

Of course, the Zarathustran wunderkind of Baker Street has a timeless appeal. Indeed, Benedict Cumberbatch is about to vie with Matt Smith’s Dr Who as a modern tv incarnation of Conan Doyle’s violin-playing Victorian creation. But Jeremy Paul’s `original’ play, first seen in 1988, pivotting on the psychological `dependency’ between the two men, initially titillates to no particular effect, despite the superb velveteen fustiness and spiralling ironwork staircase of Simon Higlett’s set.

Details of how they met (in the Afghan Wars no less, there’s topical for you), Holmes’ upbringing and the particular quirks of his personality and approach are etched in. Director Robin Herford, filling the stage with smoke and Matthew Bugg’s threatening score seems intent on recreating The Woman in Black (still running just round the corner) for which he was also responsible. But this is cod thriller, sans body or narrative drive.

Yet, come the second act, something rather extraordinary happens and more eerie than an arch Victorian evening. Holmes, returning in disguise from his supposed death at the Reichenbach Falls at the hands of arch enemy Prof Moriarty, begins to develop his theme on the triangular relationship between himself, Watson and the `monster’ within. Suddenly we are in some very interesting realms touching on Frankenstein, Freud and much else besides.

Peter Egan as Holmes, holding this slight vessel together with superb skill, is by turns clinical, manic and possessed. With more imagination, the whole production could, however, have been so much more – horribly, psychologically, disturbing.

Dr Watson: Robert Daws.
Sherlock Holmes: Peter Egan.

Director: Robin Herford.
Designer: Simon Higlett.
Lighting: Matthew Eagland.
Sound/Composer: Matthew Bugg.

2010-07-22 09:46:03

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