Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Move Over Moriarty

Maggie Fox & Sue Ryding
Lip Service
The Lowry, Salford, and touring
(2009)

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Popular local double act Lip Service, writers and performers Maggie Fox and Sue Ryding, has delved into its greatest hits of literary spoofs to revive Move Over Moriarty, its own take on the character of the greatest-ever literary detective Sherlock Holmes.

As in so many of Conan Doyle's originals, this Holmes story begins in Holmes's study as the great man reflects on his past triumphs while smoking his pipe and playing the violin when a young woman arrives with an irresistible mystery. In this case, the mystery involves a threat to her father's life at the theatre, an acrobat who lost his mind after an accident that killed his brother, threatening notes made from letters cut from The Times and some strange appearances of Garibaldi biscuits. Oh, and there's a hound from Hell on the moors too.

That is probably all that needs to be said about the story, which is really a jumble of things that, purposely, do not really add up to a coherent plot. The humour is broad and quaintly old-fashioned in style, but the duo demonstrates that old-fashioned doesn't have to equal tired and corny and can actually be funny and entertaining when delivered with this much freshness and enthusiasm.

Designed by Kate Owen, the drawing room set looks as though it was created from one of those cut and fold cardboard kits, but then cleverly folds up to become a music hall stage or backstage area, the inside of a train carriage, the moors and a few other places with various hidden doors, flaps and curtains.

Fox and Ryding both make a feature out of the deficiencies of the set and of having just two people playing a host of characters, shouting the lines of an offstage character behind their hands or appearing with bits of costume or facial hair from a previous costume still visible and then looking at the audience as though daring them to say anything. There are repeating gags such as fainting on the dog (the animals don't come out well from this story) and the doorway that is rather short for one of them, and comic set pieces such as when Watson nearly misses the train and even some comic music hall songs by composer Mark Vibrans and lyricist Malcolm Raeburn.

All of this could easily be tacky and excruciating, but in the hands of skilled comic performers Fox and Ryding and director Gwenda Hughes it becomes fast-paced, slick and very funny – and deliberately tacky.

This is a great evening of silly, entertaining family fun with plenty of laughs from a group that knows its audience very well and knows exactly how to please it.

Reviewer: David Chadderton