Touring – reviewed at King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson
A lavish staging and some spirited performances cannot redeem a thin script in the Theatre Royal Bath and Kenny Wax’s touring production of Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain.
The world’s first consulting detective has a definite claim to being Edinburgh’s most celebrated contribution to world literature. The creation of Picardy Place-born Arthur Conan Doyle is as famous now as he ever was, with Benedict Cumberbatch’s modern television interpretation just the latest in a long line.
Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’s Sherlock is, of course, just one of many projects that take their inspiration from the original stories – such as Simon Reade’s new play, currently on its world premiere tour.
Here we have a long-retired Holmes, living in seclusion on the Sussex coast with his beehives in 1921, haunted by thoughts of old enemies – then confronted by a body on the beach. A further disturbance is provided by the visit of Dr Watson’s estranged wife Mary, who says she has seen her dead son at the rooms in Baker Street that Holmes and Watson once shared.
Aficionados will instantly spot that the narrative does not so much trample on the continuity of the original stories as crush it beneath the wheels of a truck. Not that there is anything wrong with that – many others have done much the same.
An aged Holmes has also recently been seen on screen portrayed by Ian McKellen. And it must be admitted that there are things Conan Doyle himself never seemed that bothered about – such as the exact location of Watson’s war wound, whether Mary was dead or alive, and (most memorably of all) what the good doctor’s first name was.
So there is plenty of precedent to work with. The trouble is that there have been so many stories ‘after Conan Doyle’ (in some cases, a very long way after) that you cannot help wondering if it would not be easier just to adapt one of the original stories – some of which remain perfectly dramatic. The only criterion must be whether any new version works on its own terms, and unfortunately the answer here must be decidedly negative.
A scene from Sherlock Holmes The Final Curtain. Pic: Nobby Clark
An odd mixture of the inexplicable and the utterly predictable, the plot has holes big enough to drive a hansom cab through. There are several direct quotations from the canon, but these just serve to highlight how inadequate most of the rest is.
A sizeable chunk early on is inspired by The Lion’s Mane – presumably chosen because it is one of the most obscure stories, but there is a good reason for that. Much of the rest of it comes across as a kind of Greatest Hits – for example, there seems no reason to have Sherlock’s brother Mycroft in the story at all, other than somebody thinking that a Holmes tribute should feature him.
Reade has such a pedigree – particularly with several highly successful stage adaptations of novels – that it is odd this fails to work. Much of it assumes a basic familiarity with the character – the drug addiction, the Reichenbach Falls, Mrs Hudson, the love of disguise – but then goes over old ground in a way that fans will find infuriating. There is the odd intriguing idea, but it is soon submerged in a story that has the definite whiff of the potboiler.
knowing theatrical references
There are a number of knowing theatrical references, from the title down, that fall decidedly flat. Most bizarre of all, there is a final scene that comes after the play appears to have finished that will live long in the memory, and not in a good way. Presumably an attempt to provide some kind of thematic closure and explanation, it instead is misjudged on so many levels that it is practically guaranteed to leave the audience open-mouthed in disbelief.
Liza Goddard and Robert Powell. pic: Nobby Clark
The cast do their best with such an unsatisfactory script. Robert Powell is engaging enough as Holmes, although an arthritic Sherlock is never going to be as compulsive as the younger, more mercurial figure we are used to. Despite being in thrall to modern developments – radio, psychoanalysis and electricity in all its forms – Watson is definitely the permanently confused old buffer of so many screen portrayals , but Timothy Kightley gives him a sympathetic air.
Liza Goddard is saddled with much of the least satisfactory dialogue as Mary, but has so much energy and conviction that she nearly carries it off – which is saying something under the circumstances.
Roy Sampson’s Mycroft is so twinkly-eyed and effortlessly superior that he can be forgiven for being extraneous to the plot and so unlike the original, while Anna O’Grady’s comic turns add much needed life. Lewis Collier’s detective inspector has an upright believability, and overall the cast cannot be faulted for any shortcomings.
David Grindley’s direction is somewhat static and portentous, a feeling which is accentuated by Jason Taylor’s doomy lighting. This helps to give precedence to the swift changes of Jonathan Fensom’s set, and to the effects of magic consultant John Bulleid. Unfortunately, with a couple of notable exceptions, none of this is as gasp-inducing as it might be.
The end result is a solid and undemanding production of an utterly forgettable script that is unlikely to satisfy Holmesians, and will leave non-believers no clearer as to what the fuss is about.
Running time 1hour 55 minutes including one interval
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ.
Monday 28 May– Saturday 2 June 2018
Daily at 7.30 pm; Matinees Wed, Sat: 2.30 pm
Tickets and details: http://www.capitaltheatres.com/sherlockholmes.
Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain on tour:
Mon 28 May – Sat 2 June
0131 529 6000
Mon 11 – Sat 16 June
Mon 18 – Sat 23 June
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
01483 44 00 00
Mon 25 – Sat 30 June
029 2087 8889
Mon 2 – Sat 7 July
01162 423 595
Mon 9 – Sat 14 July
Mon 16 – Sat 21 July
Mon 23 – Sat 28 July
0844 871 3018