13 March 2023
The popularity and fascination with Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes continues unabated. Continual reinventions, reincarnations, revivals and adaptations highlight the longevity of the stories and the character. Blackeyed Theatre are well versed in bringing new adaptations of classic novels to the stage and have previously presented Holmes in ‘The Sign of Four’; here we have the last of the full-length Sherlock Holmes novels, ‘The Valley of Fear’.
A simple, but very effective set provides the backdrop to the mysterious death of a man about which Holmes is tipped off when sent a cipher to decode – naturally he does this easily enough. However getting to the heart of the crime involves a trip back in time to America and a deep delve into the world of secret societies, organised crime and a brush with Holmes’ arch-enemy. Along with very atmospheric lighting and a first-rate underscore by Tristan Parkes, the production has a slick and attractive feel to it.
A cast of just five play some 20 roles lead by a Holmes and Watson who fit the bill to perfection. Luke Barton has previous as Sherlock and you can see why; his upright presence, his focus – you can almost hear the cogs and wheels turning – the mannered movements as well as the lucid explanations and moments of manic action, make this a mesmerising performance and a pleasure to witness. Likewise Joseph Derrington’s Watson, who acts as a narrator for the whole story, is not a witless buffoon, but very much defers to his friend’s superior skills. The relationship between the two is investigated well and as a secondary plot, it is very satisfying. The two actors work off each other brilliantly – their onstage partnership is a triumph; at times rather touching, and really quite funny. Both actors play other roles too.
Blake Kubena, Gavin Molloy and Alice Osmanski have to juggle roles, costumes and accents in a merry-go-round of characters and acquit themselves well – though Kubena’s voice drops a little too much at times as McMurdo and is not always fully audible. While the multiple role choice is always interesting to see, it does present some problems.
Conan Doyle did love a detailed back story and, in this case, it forms a substantial part of the book as a whole; sitting somewhere in the middle of the main plot. The adaptation by Nick Lane weaves the two stories in and out of each other before drawing the strands together at the conclusion. Herein lies the problem. The backstory is so detailed and quite dense, with many characters – some of whom we meet and some we don’t – that it is quite difficult to follow. I haven’t read the book for well over 40 years and just couldn’t work our quite what was going on all the time. And so it lost me and was not always helped by the multi-role format. The script is well written and sound, but the audience is asked to work extremely hard to keep up with everything and it doesn’t work as well as it should. Once you are lost by a plot, it is difficult to get you back. While the action concerning Holmes is smart and involving, the American story is unclear and distances the viewer.
I do, however, praise the Company for presenting this tricky story in a traditional, but dynamic fashion. In Messrs. Barton and Derrington you have a stage Holmes and Watson for our time and a partnership which I would be more than happy to be entertained by again.
CAST & CREATIVES
LUKE BARTON – SHERLOCK HOLMES, TEDDY BALDWIN
JOSEPH DERRINGTON – JOHN WATSON, THAD MORRIS, ELDON STANGER
BLAKE KUBENA – JACK MCMURDO, DETECTIVE WHITE MASON, BIRDY EDWARDS, JOHN DOUGLAS
GAVIN MOLLOY – INSPECTOR MCDONALD, OFFICER JASPER, AMES, BODYMASTER MCGINTY, CECIL BARKER, PROFESSOR MORIARTY
ALICE OSMANSKI – MRS HUDSON, OFFICER MARVIN, ETTIE SHAFTER, MRS ALLEN, MRS IVY DOUGLAS
ADAPTATION & DIRECTOR – NICK LANE
COMPOSER & SOUND DESIGN – TRISTAN PARKES
SET DESIGN – VICTORIA SPEARING
COSTUME DESIGN – NAOMI GIBBS
LIGHTING DESIGN – OLIVER WELSH
A BLACKEYED THEATRE PRODUCTION