The Death and Life of Sherlock Holmes – March 2008

8/10

By David Stuart Davies

Directed by Gareth Armstrong

Venue: Mill Studio

Date: Friday 17th March 2008

No need for a headset tonight. Sitting in the front row, of a very small studio theatre, we also had the benefit of an older actor with impeccable diction and sufficient power to be absolutely clear throughout this engaging performance. Roger Llewellyn reprised his role as Sherlock Holmes (and a number of other characters) in a new play, based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s attempts to kill off Sherlock and get some peace. In fact, he got the opposite, and had to resurrect him, but this play concentrates more on the assassination aspect.

The set was much as before, with a chair, table and coat stand to our left, representing the 221b Baker Street flat, and another table and chair to our right, for Conan Doyle and his alter-ego Watson. Roger wore a smart frock coat over a regular Victorian suit, only adding a topper when Professor Moriarty came to call. With this, and some lighting and sound effects, Roger Llewellyn wove his magic. He began by coming right to the front of the performance space and making an announcement to the gathering of shareholders of the Strand magazine – us. As the magazine’s editor(?) he had to inform us of the sad news that Mr Conan Doyle would not be writing any more Sherlock Holmes stories after the current one had completed its run, and expressed all the regret and concern that must have been felt at the time. Not only were they going to miss out on some superb stories, but the magazine might not survive the drop in circulation.

Next we hear from Conan Doyle himself, as he explains his dislike both for Holmes and the way these stories have taken attention from what he considers to be his better work – his romances and historical novels. He’s fed up being the “Holmes man”, and determines to finish the blighter off. Holmes, meanwhile, knows nothing of this, and continues to solve whatever puzzles the writer can throw at him with the easy arrogance and self-satisfaction that Conan Doyle finds so loathsome. We get to see a glimpse of one of these, with Roger acting out brilliantly the character of the wrongly accused chap that Holmes saves from the gallows. When speaking as Holmes, he often includes Watson in his talk, and looks at the chair on the left where Conan Doyle sits to speak to us or write his letters, etc. This was a nice touch.

Eventually Conan Doyle enlists Professor Moriarty to help bump Holmes off. The Professor has been let into the secret, and chooses to inform Holmes of the writer’s plan. It comes as quite a shock to Holmes to find out he’s a fictional character, but the old arrogance soon reasserts itself. Between them, they agree to change the plan. Meantime, Conan Doyle is already planning his next work. With his interest in the supernatural and spiritualism, he wants to include these elements in a story. He’s thinking of a supernatural creature, perhaps a huge hound, that seems to haunt the moors. The only trouble is, he needs a strong character with good scientific reasoning powers to hold the work together and carry out the investigation. But who could this be? He’s determined it won’t be you-know-who, as he’s now dead; Conan Doyle’s just finished the last chapter of that story! It’s quite a problem.

The main enjoyment of the evening was Roger Llewellyn’s performance, or rather performances, as he did all the parts – Conan Doyle, Sherlock, and Moriarty – so well. His ability to change from one character to another with scarcely a beat between, was remarkable, and his accents were superb. The script was still very entertaining, though perhaps less fun than the earlier play which covered Holmes’s cases, but it was good to see Conan Doyle brought in, and to play with the idea of a fictional character having a life of his own. Which of course he does, even if it is always 1895.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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