The Secret of Sherlock Holmes

Jeremy Paul
Bath Theatre Royal and touring
(2010)

Publicity photo

Peter Egan and Philip Franks revive their roles as Holmes and Watson following their success last year in Hound of the Baskervilles. This time they take on fiction's most famous detectives in Jeremy Paul's The Secrets of Sherlock Holmes, a beautifully textured exploration of the psychological torment that drives the man, and the complexities of his relationship with his closest companion.

Simon Higlett's design is a plush period bachelor pad, complete with all the deep-filled bookshelves, plush velvet upholstery and ornate opium syringes you could wish for. Rising above the set is the exposed brickwork of Victorian London's roofscape. The detail of the design is faultless; as the audience file in, smoke billows gently from a brick chimney and a screen sunk high into the set gives you a window onto the back-yards of Baker Street terraces. This is an enticing and irresistible glimpse into the private world of fiction's most bohemian of bachelors.

Egan is once more the consummate Holmes, with all the weight and authority of the man whom Watson describes as "an isolated phenomenon". But Jeremy Paul unpicks Holmes, revealing just how close he comes to unravelling and exposing the tortured, cocaine-fuelled workings of his mind. Egan exposes Holmes' self-centred, dispassionate nature, and has him tumble from a self-assured independence to an opiate-fuelled depression; a fascinating bi-polarism that gives an edge to Egan's performance.

His dependency on Watson is laid bare here too, perfectly pitched by Egan. "You are the one fixed point in a changing world", he tells Watson. Franks' Watson shares Holmes' sense of lonely isolation and his devotion to his companion is clear.

Here, there are none of the romping investigations over moorland or on smokey railway stations with which we are so familiar with. But when Holmes apparently meets his end at the Reichenbach Falls, Watson is forced to test just how far his loyalty will stretch. For his part, Holmes is tormented by the possibility that his arch-enemy, Professor Moriaty, may be nothing more than a figment of his imagination; worse, an alter-ego. This, then, is a rich, dark and entirely psychological adventure in which both men are forced to confront their demons.

Runs at Bath Theatre Royal until March 13th, and tours to Guildford, Edinburgh, Malvern, Southend-on-Sea and Cambridge.

Sheila Connor reviewed this production in Guildford.

Reviewer: Allison Vale