reviewed at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 9 July
Fictional characters, providing that they’re sufficiently charismatic, can have a very prolonged afterlife. Take Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. He’s been updated throughout the 20th and 21st centuries and both he and Dr Watson have acquired adventures beyond even their creator’s imagination.
Simon Reade play uses elements of Conan Doyle’s own fascination with spiritualism – in opposition to his detective’s material-bound reliance on actualities – to create a “30 years after the Reichenbach Falls, aka The Final Problem” drama. Holmes has retired to the south coast and taken up beekeeping.
A mysterious corpse turns up on his land, and he’s intrigued by its anomalies. The stage is set for a return to Baker Street, where the flat is being used by Dr Watson as consulting rooms for his new-found speciality of psychoanalysis.
Watson is also in the midst of a series of broadcasts based on his Holmesian escapades. He has become estranged from his wife Mary after their son was killed in the 1914-18 war and she has taken up the suffrage cause to a degree bordering on fanaticism.
Director David Grindley keeps the action flowing, abetted by an extremely clever sequence of settings by Jonathan Fenson which centres on the iconic flat but otherwise uses a hypnotically perambulating curtain, subtle lighting by Jason Taylor and equally acute sound by Gregory Clarke to convey place and mood.
If Robert Powell as Sherlock Holmes walks away with the acting honours, that’s due both to his skill and personality but also to the fact that the outsider – almost maverick – elements of Holmes’ character has universal appeal. Timothy Kightley as Dr Watson competes extremely well; we all also root for the underdog.
In this story, the most difficult part is that of Mary Watson. Liza Goddard has to make what is basically an unsympathetic character even before familial and other revelations start emerging into someone we can understand. She tries very hard, but the part is not written to help any actress.
There are some neat vignettes in this frame. Roy Sampson’s Mycroft Holmes makes the most of his fraternal exchanges. The British Broadcasting Company lady charged with shepherding Dr Watson to the microphone and Miss Hudson (the new landlady) are sparklingly doubled by Anna O’Grady.
Four star rating.
Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain runs at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until 14 July with matinées on 12 and 14 July.