Sherlock Holmes: A Study in Lipstick, Ketchup and Blood

An adaptation by Lesley Hart from the novel A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
Pitlochry Festival Theatre and OVO
Pitlochry Festival Theatre

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Deirdre Davis and Ben Stock Credit: Fraser Band
Ben Stock and Deirdre Davis Credit: Fraser Band
Ben Stock Credit: Fraser Band
Deirdre Davis Credit: Fraser Band
Show number 186 Credit: Fraser Band
The titular ketchup Credit: Fraser Band

The third performance space I've attended at Pitlochry Festival Theatre this week is outdoors in the Explorers Garden against the backdrop of the River Tummel and the hills behind through the trees. It's referred to as the Amphitheatre, although the seating only surrounds half of the circular wooden stage. Cushions are provided for those who haven't brought their own, but the wooden seats are certainly no less comfortable than those at one of my local theatres.

The performance is an adaptation of the first Sherlock Holmes story by Arthur Conan Doyle in which the great detective first meets his friend and biographer, Dr John Watson, told by just two actors and an apparently random collection of props and scenery. This has become a common style of comic play, where a familiar old novel is performed frantically for laughs with lots of doubling and trebling of roles and slapstick and disputes between the performers, and there is certainly plenty of this in Lesley Hart's adaptation and Marc Small's production, but there is something else going on here as well.

It begins with Harry (Deirdre Davis) and Ash (Ben Stock) preparing to perform the story, but she stops and remarks on a flock of starlings, which he dismisses until he latches on and joins in the fantasy. The play within the play starts with Harry playing both Holmes and Watson, the two almost indistinguishable except Holmes wears his famous deerstalker, which Ash sometimes holds up at head level for Harry as Watson to speak to. Ash plays the landlady, Inspector Lestrade, a constable and anyone else who drifts into the story, until he demands to play Watson. Harry objects on the basis that Ash is/was a doctor, whereas Harry is/was a professional actor, but Ash says, "we're two people stranded on a blasted rock—it's not Covent bloody Garden!"

It gradually becomes clear that we are in some post-climate-change-apocalypse scenario, where society has broken down and these two lonely people re-enact this story, and possibly others, to pass the time—and that Harry is gravely ill.

The existential drama of two people stuck in a loop of performing the same theatrical rituals reminded me of Enda Walsh's The Walworth Farce, and possibly even of Godot, but it doesn't have the same weight or substance to it, and the humour and knockabout routines, while they often work well enough, aren't as frantic or as inventive as many similar comic adaptations. For a performance of less than an hour, it is trying to do too many things for any of them to really shine or to show why they are all in the same show.

However, the performances from Davis and Stock are always engaging, sometimes funny and often make you feel for characters that are fairly thinly drawn, so it's still a pleasant way to pass an hour in the afternoon in such beautiful surroundings, especially if the weather is as nice as it was when we saw it.

Reviewer: David Chadderton

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