Touring – reviewed at Greenwich Theatre, London
The game’s afoot! Yes, Sherlock Holmes is back on stage in a thrilling new adaptation that takes audiences from the heat of India and the height of the British Raj to the foggy streets of London and the murky Thames.
Sherlock Holmes: The Sign of Four is a rollicking good yarn, inventively told by Blackeyed Theatre, which is touring the UK and China.
Looted treasure, damsels in distress, a mysterious one-legged man and murder most foul, The Sign of Four has it all, including a rather good sleuth and his faithful companion. Although this is largely an ensemble piece the tall, heroic-looking Luke Barton makes a jolly impressive and charismatic Sherlock. All the boxes are ticked with Barton’s ‘consulting detective’ brimming with arrogance, possessing a monumental ego and a renowned drugs habit.
The ubiquitous deerstalker and pipe are missing in favour of a velvet smoking jacket and hypodermic syringe – Holmes, here, a clear advocate of narcotics to heighten the senses. But otherwise this is a young, very engaging sleuth who fixes the audience with a gimlet eye before deducing – with impeccable diction – the answer to a fiendishly clever plot.
He’s helped – or should that be hindered? – in some small way by war veteran and good egg, Dr John Watson (Joe Derrington), who also acts as narrator to this gripping story.
The Sign of Four was Sherlock Holmes’ second outing for his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and it’s an action-packed adventure, told with considerable inventiveness by director and adaptor, Nick Lane. The cast of six is kept busy not only playing multiple parts but also musical instruments. There’s also quite a bit of scenery to shift throughout the production. But Barton and Derrington concentrate on good observation and masterly deduction to solve this Victorian puzzler.
Holmes, bored and resorting to injections of cocaine to ease the tedium, is desperate for a new case. Right on cue there arrives a young governess, Mary Morstan, who wants the detective and Watson to discover the whereabouts of her missing father and to solve the riddle as to why she has been receiving rare pearls.
Before long they are on the trail and it takes them to the homes of the strange Sholto brothers whose father served in India with Mary’s papa.
And they learn of a strange tale about the two men double-crossing a group of four convicts and escaping with fortune in ancient jewels.
But the plot thickens when the case turns to murder and Bertie Sholto turns up dead…killed by a small man with a blow pipe.
It’s a hugely ambitious story to pull off on stage but it is cleverly done – particularly an edge-of-your seat boat chase on the Thames.
Hard-working Ru Hamilton brings some light relief as the rather effete Thaddeus Sholto not to mention playing minor characters including Sholto senior and a rather dubious, zoo-owning Scot.
Stephanie Rutherford, Christopher Glover and Zack Lee offer strong support, taking on a number of roles each to flesh out the cast of characters.
Sherlock fans will love it. Mysterious, evocative and stylish, The Sign of Four, is a tense action thriller from start to finish.
Sherlock Holmes runs at the Greenwich Theatre until Saturday before continuing its UK tour to Malvern Theatres (May 14 – 18); Mansfield Palace Theatre (May 21); Mercury Theatre Colchester (May 22 – 23); Theatre Royal Margate (May 24 – 25); Rotherham Theatres (May 28 – 29) Stephen Joseph Theatre (May 30 – June 1); Rhodes Arts Complex (Jun 3 – 4) and Broadway Barking (Jun 6 – 7).
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