by Jeremy Paul.

Tour to 24 April 2010.
Runs 1hr 30min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 1 March at Richmond Theatre.

Has ideas but misses the point.
Holmes and Watson are the paradigm for subsequent crime-busting couples – Morse and Lewis come to mind, but there are many others. The wit and the straight-man transposed to murder-solving as quick-witted detective and unperceptive sounding-board. Watson sees what we see and echoes our surprise when Holmes, or his author, performs a kind of Brechtian alienation, making us see things from the viewpoint of an original mind.

Holmes is necessarily less than humane, clearing the way to be a superhuman intelligence. And he’s active, a man of enterprise, unlike his more observant brother Mycroft, who, lacking the will to act, languishes as a modest civil servant. It’s just one of several elements echoing from the present that writer Jeremy Paul teasingly sticks in his script: here is a time when rich and poor increasingly diverge, a setting in the wake of war in Afghanistan.

The trouble is, Paul’s script does little but tease throughout its brief span. “You’re a detective,” you want to shout at Holmes, “so, detect.” But, despite references to various cases, it never happens. There’s none of the purposeful observation and deductive ingenuity Arthur Conan Doyle injected into crime fiction. It needn’t be the whole point of Paul’s play, but more is needed than the incidental details unrelated to any investigation offered here.

So, for all the atmosphere of Robin Herford’s production, splendidly enhanced by Simon Higlett’s set, its central consulting room surrounded by rising curves of Victorian cities, and backed by a Gustave Doré vision of huddled squalor – converting to the intense spray of the Reichenbach Falls – and despite fine performances from Peter Egan as a Holmes addicted to display and activity, plus Philip Franks as a Watson who’s stolidly sensible and thoughtful, just not imbued with his friend’s streak of genius, the piece never gains propulsion.

If it did, its own Holmesian originality would have a stronger context. Sherlock’s secret ingeniously takes this late Victorian icon into the world of another, Robert Louis Stevenson’s darkest creation. It’s fascinating, but it needs more than this mix of past-tense narration and present-tense inconsequentiality to achieve its full effect.

Dr Watson: Philip Franks.
Sherlock Holmes: Peter Egan.

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

2010-03-02 11:20:02

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