Attic Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 15th September 2022
Following last year’s rip-roaring Hound of the Baskervilles, Tread the Boards theatre company is back with this anthology of Holmes’s adventures. Back as the detective duo is the excellent pairing of Robert Moore as Sherlock and John-Robert Partridge as Dr Watson. Moore is in peril of becoming my favourite Holmes: he has the attitude, the humour, the intensity, and the heroism all down to perfection, with Partridge’s Watson and intelligent padawan and emotional barometer for the action.
The four stories in this exquisite adaptation are A Scandal in Bohemia, The Speckled Band, The Dancing Men, and The Final Problem, but the script avoids an episode structure by providing a throughline courtesy of arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty – Stephen Hardcastle in a suitably sinister portrayal.
Matilda Bott delights as a chirpy Mrs Hudson. Leo Garrick impresses as an aggressive Doctor Roylett, while Stephanie Miles makes a spirited Irene Adler. The supporting players get to demonstrate their versatility by doubling roles; the leading men get to demonstrate theirs by adopting disguises.
Partridge also directs, getting the tone of the piece spot on. The intimate space of the Attic puts us right in the Baker Street flat where all the action unfolds. Judicious use of lighting and sound effects suggests the other locations – Elliott Wallis’s superb music-and-sound design goes a long way to creating the atmosphere and a sense of time and place.
The script, by Robert Moore himself, wisely adheres to Conan Doyle, delivering everything we expect from and love about the most famous consulting detective.
There are plenty more stories that could be staged in this manner and I really hope a Tread The Boards Sherlock Holmes show becomes an annual treat.
Blue Orange Theatre, Birmingham, Friday 22nd October, 2021
This stage adaptation by ‘Mark W’ of the most famous case of the Baker Street detective is doggedly faithful to the Arthur Conan Doyle original, down to the chapter titles that separate the action into sections. As in the book, our narrator is Doctor Watson (Alex Nikitas), recounting the tale while the rest of the cast of four play multiple roles to populate the stage. James Nicholas’s Holmes is spirited and arrogant, brimming with verve. He has the barefaced boldness to portray Barrymore the butler without the beard for which he is noted, but I find this doesn’t irk me as much as it might—the characterisations are so different, so vivid.
Becoming a fixture at the Blue Orange, Richard Buck returns again to portray Sir Henry, heir to the Baskerville fortune and the cursed hound, along with others like a coach driver and old Mr Franklin. Buck makes a tall and handsome Henry. Indeed, this production is a chance for this trio of actors to showcase their versatility – none more so than its only female member, Emma Cooper, who along with all the female parts, gives us a Doctor Mortimer that is probably the strongest characterisation of the lot. Nikitas’s Watson remains a constant throughout, our touchstone amid the comings and goings; his Watson is a man of intelligence, a true apprentice to Holmes, and not the bumbling sidekick he is sometimes portrayed to be.
The character changes are handled swiftly and economically, with the addition of a hat and a coat and a change of stance. I know if it were me, I’d put the wrong voice to the wrong hat, my accents all blending into one. Director Oliver Hume demands a lot of his cast, never letting them leave the stage for a second. He also works hard to keep the piece from becoming static; it is rather wordy as no detail from the Doyle is omitted.
The action is supported by Michael Harris and Nathan Bower’s work on lighting and sound, with well-placed effects to add to the atmosphere. I think the show could withstand more of this, more music and atmospheric sound effects. The set, by Mark Webster, strongly suggests Holmes’s Baker Street residence, with the props and furnishings utilised to represent the other locations; we never lose sight of this being a story Watson is telling in Holmes’s flat. Like all good pieces of narrative theatre, it engages the audience’s imagination to fill in what cannot be staged.
There are a couple of moments when the energy and pace flag a little during this first night performance, but on the whole this is an engaging piece of storytelling, servicing the mystery well. The titular Hound is left to our imaginations, which is probably the best way to handle it on this occasion. To use any other method, they’d be barking.
Blue Orange Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 2nd September, 2019
The publicity material for this two-hander of an adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes classic says the show stars “No one famous” but a little detective work on my part leads me to suspect that the performers are called Oliver Hayes and Bibi Lucille, who share the narration as Holmes and Watson (here, Doctor Jane) as well as playing all the parts in the play.
It’s fast-paced and funny – there is much to be enjoyed in the slipshod way the pair tear around, donning hats and wigs and so on to populate the story. It’s deceptively slapdash, with lines fluffed and forgotten, crucial props going astray and plenty of onstage bickering. Every now and then they come together (to use one of their own innuendos) with instances of slick comic timing. You want innuendo? They will give you one. The script (by Thomas Moore) is riddled with double (and single) entendres. Each characterisation is more grotesque than the last, with Holmes giving us his bent-backed Barrymore and his louche Laura Lyons, and Watson her bizarre Doctor Mortimer and knee-slapping Sir Henry.
Oliver Hayes has a cheeky twinkle in his eye, like a young Michael Palin, while Bibi Lucille is as funny as she is versatile. The whole thing is camp, cheeky and daft, yet the plot adheres to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel, hitting all the main points of action and including all the major characters – we, the audience, are recruited to portray the titular Hound, howling on demand.
Hilarious, energetic, silly, saucy and smart, this show provides a good workout for your laughing muscles, even though some of the gags are a bit laboured and repetitive, which somehow adds to the fun. The muckiness is in the great British comedic tradition, and these two are such a hugely likeable pair, they can pull it off with ease.
What a pair! Oliver Hayes and Bibi Lucille (Photo: The Other Richard)