By Justin Webb
Directed by Alan Meadows
Venue: Mill Studio, Guildford
Date: Friday 13th October 2006
This was a three-hander, giving us the story of Sherlock Holmes up to the Reichenbach Falls, and including some of Arthur Conan Doyle’s own difficulties with Holmes’ success – he says the character has “subsumed” him, hence the desire to kill him off.
The Mill Studio is a small performance space, with bare brick walls and just an open stage. Various packing cases were positioned on the stage, painted different colours, and there were coat stands at either corner, ready for all the quick changes the small cast had to do. Some items were taken out of the packing cases as well. There was violin music playing in the background for most of the performance, and beforehand too. We didn’t see Holmes play his instrument, although he took it out and polished it, but the music gave us the sense of it all the same.
They started with the dramatic struggle of Holmes and Moriarty at the Falls. A brief tussle, and then the lights go out and we hear the scream of whoever went over the edge. Then the lights go back up, and we see Watson’s first meeting with Holmes, in the lab where Holmes has discovered a test for haemoglobin. The play takes us through their early days, and the case of the speckled band. We see Mrs Hudson, rather stern and strict, somewhat disapproving. We also see various other characters, all beautifully played by the ‘company’! To end the first half, they segued into a scene betweenBelland Doyle by having Watson refer to Conan Doyle as his mentor, then we see Conan Doyle confessing toBellthat Holmes has got to him, and he’d like to kill him off. It’s quite a long scene, and allows us to compare the two men –Belland Holmes. Both have the keen eye for detail and an inherent kindness, once they realise there’s something to be kind about.
In the second half we were given The Red-Headed League, and the run-up to theSwitzerland trip, culminating in a reprise of the final struggle, and then Watson reading Holmes’ final note.
It took me a few minutes to get the hang of what they were doing, and then I really enjoyed it. I loved the very quick changes, where an actor would just throw on a cape and instantly be a different character. The performances were great in that it was easy to tell the characters apart. I especially liked the silent exchange between Holmes and Watson, when they’re telling the story of The Red-Headed League. At one point they need someone to play the pawnbroker with red hair. A vivid red wig is produced, and with wry smiles and grimaces, Watson accepts that he’s to play the part, and dons the wig. I also liked the simplicity of the storytelling. With so few props and clever use of lighting, it was amazing what a range of places and atmospheres were suggested. And when Holmes and Watson travel by coach, there’s none of the bumping around that’s usual with this sort of imagined scene – the dialogue is allowed to fill in the pictures in our minds, the sort of thing that Conan Doyle was so good at anyway. A very enjoyable two hours.
© 2006 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me