Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh
Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson
Sherlock Holmes: The Final Reckoning, Twisted Thistle’s production for Annexe Arts Hub’s Formation Festival at the Assembly Roxy, is an intriguing and beautifully presented exploration of the characters of Edinburgh-born Arthur Conan Doyle.
The first thing that must be noted is the unfortunate similarity of the title to that of a singularly ill-judged recent touring production. Suffice it to say that this is an immeasurably more considered work, staged with genuine care and beautifully acted.
A two-hander delving into the story of the relationship between Sherlock Holmes, the world’s first consulting detective, and his chronicler Dr Watson, David Stuart Davies’ play is the latest in a long line that display the tendency for serious Holmesians to seek a canonical reason for everything that happens in the stories.
This is by no means the first work to look for deep psychological reasons why Professor Moriarty, supposedly the detective’s arch-enemy, is never even mentioned until The Final Problem.
The obvious explanation – that he was a convenient plot device when Doyle wanted his creation killed off, and so had never been necessary before – may satisfy the rest of us. However, those who like to pretend that Holmes and Watson were real people still endeavour to make sense of the many inconsistencies in the stories.
The basis of this play may not be startlingly original, then, but at least Holmes expert David Stuart Davies has earned the right to mess about with the canon if anyone has. And (unlike many other pastiches, re-workings and extensions) this comes from a deep knowledge and love of the originals.
Material from Doyle is skilfully interwoven into the narrative. There is just enough explanation to satisfy the neophyte without irritating those who are familiar with the sources. The script, meanwhile, is taut and carefully structured, with the ending making perfect sense without necessarily being easy to foresee.
Emily Ingram’s limpid direction aids the clarity of the storytelling considerably, with technician Roddy Simpson’s sound design being particularly noteworthy. If there is a somewhat homespun feel to the staging, this fits in well with the atmospheric upstairs space at the Roxy, and only adds to the elegiac, old-fashioned air of proceedings.
The unfussy style of the production also helps to draw out a couple of top-class performances from the two actors. On the first night, Michael Daviot was a little under the weather, but this is not necessarily something the audience would have guessed. In stature and style Daviot is an ideal fit for Holmes – he nails the brooding introspection, the mercurial twitchiness and that ever-so-slightly studied eccentricity.
There has to be a certain knowing quality to any portrayal of Holmes, but too many take this as an excuse to venture into camp. There is none of that here, with Daviot instead producing a multi-faceted characterisation that is unpredictable but rooted in reality.
Mark Kydd’s Watson – solid without being stolid, and refreshingly human – is an excellent foil for Daviot. More than that, there are times when (as the script demands) he becomes the centre of the story.
Whether yet another psychological exploration of the Holmes/Watson relationship is preferable to an adaptation of one of the original stories is a matter of personal preference. But if we must have such efforts, let them be as good as this one.
Running time 1 hour 5 minutes (no interval)
Assembly Roxy, 2 Roxburgh Place, EH8 9SU
Monday 25 February – Sunday 3 March 2019
Mon – Wed: 6.45 pm; Fri – Sun: 5pm (no performance Thurs)
Information and tickets: Book here.
David Stuart Davies’s Holmsian books are available on Amazon: click here.
Mark Kydd. Pic Eric Robinson