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Sherlock Holmes - The Best Kept Secret

Mark Catley
West Yorkshire Playhouse
West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

Jason Durr (Sherlock Holmes), Adrian Lukis (Mycroft Holmes) Credit: Manuel Harlan

Here’s a new and very ambitious West Yorkshire Playhouse production that comes close to providing an exciting evening in The Quarry Theatre.

To some extent, Mark Catley has avoided the now-hackneyed reworking of Holmes stories by writing a new one. And he has made a very good stab at that. The dialogue is crisp and not in the least overwritten. And the overall story is as good as many of the originals. However the sequencing of the story is weak.

We are treated to a lot of dashing around and shouting for much of the first act, then a dollop of quiet emotional stuff. A remix is called for. It’s fine (indeed almost de rigueur) for TV plays and films to start with sound and fury, but on stage it leaves the production nowhere to go, and whilst on screen it might draw us in, in theatre it is equally likely to act as a barrier to involvement.

The second issue I have with both script and production is that there are clear indications that neither writer nor director could really make up his mind about what they were creating. What we seem to have is an anachronistic spoof with aspirations to being a thriller or detective story of detection with psychological undertones. Unfortunately it never quite makes it into any genre so that, no matter how watchable it becomes, it is never emotionally, intellectually or adrenaly involving.

Having said that, the show, sparkles with wit (Catley) and good direction (Nicholai Foster). Michael Taylor’s set is shadowy and atmospheric, it cranks and creaks between Baker Street, the British Museum, the Thames, a prison cell and God knows where else. Grant Olding has composed a sound track which adds much to the ambience of the show. Ben Cracknell’s lighting cuts the mustard but, last night at least, Mic Pool’s otherwise good sound effects were far too loud.

The play features a number of conjuring or ‘magic’ tricks, fake hanging (which didn’t quite work), fake guillotining which did work. But there is nothing less magical than magic in a play. It leaves us peering round the stage and working out ‘how it’s done’. And it leaves us thinking the characters are naïve for not recognizing the transparent trickery. The kids, however, will love it.

Luckily the shortcomings have compensation. The acting is top notch. Wonderful to see exchanges that allow actors to work with more than their mouths. Adrian Lukis’s Mycroft is particularly enjoyable, and believable. Jason Durr’s performance is faultless, unfortunately the characterisation of Holmes is a bit too de nos jours. It pops up all over the place: the sloppy, floppy ‘my God he’s deeply interesting—he forgets to change out of his jama bottoms’ superhero.

Other members of the cast are well chosen and although some have been toppled into stereotypy, that’s not their fault. Anyway according to the unusually informative programme we are experiencing ‘steampunk’. Maybe in that mythic world comedy cockneys abound and middle class late Victorians have the speech characteristics of Lib Dems assuming the mantel of power.

Anyway, it’s all good, noisy, fun... and the kids will love it.

Reviewer: Ray Brown