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Monday, 28 September 2015

Sherlock Holmes (TADS)

Sherlock Holmes
TADS Theatre
September 2015

I really shouldn’t be doing this. I mean, I have been treading those bloody boards myself recently and any arse about face from me will ring derisive hoots loud enough to be heard at the Edinburgh Festival. But, my excuse, I am at that age when what you say and know far outweighs what you do. Ageing politicians and prostitutes have the same occupational problems. So I am told. But instinctive desire for discretion has oft, in the past, failed to stop me barging in with a blunderbuss. Theatre does that. Good or bad, everyone has an opinion. Mine is here and, blunderbuss fully charged, first thoughts on TADS Sherlock Holmes is that someone, somewhere, should have employed a very large pair of theatrical scissors. Not on the cast, mainly pretty good, but on a script that would have sent me to sleep while learning the first act. The plot aint complex, a chase for indiscreet letters and photographs, but the exposition is. Never have so many toiled for so little. On a basic set which benefited from Paul Horsler’s imaginative lighting for changed locations, a motley collection of ne’er-do-wells chase the MacGuffin. A statuesque Madge Larrabee (Tracey Chatterley) leads the baddies and our old pal, or in this case young, Sherlock Holmes (Anthony Bird) bats for the goodies. To infuse an extra interest we also have a vengeful Moriarty (Iain Grant) obsessed, as ever, with the downfall of Holmes. It could all be great fun as tongue in cheek caper. But as serious but light drama, Arthur Conan Doyle’s venture into staging his eponymous hero, yes I know he had help, rarely fired realistic bullets. Perhaps it’s me. The audience, or most of them, roared at the end. But they do that on Strictly Come Dancing and that is even more tiresome. But unimpressed as I was by the play I have to say I was quite taken with some of the performances. Anthony Bird is always eminently watchable and his fresh faced and gentle Holmes had a lightness of touch and delivery that constantly pleased. He was well matched by Steven Pryer’s slightly vacant and bemused Dr Watson who, equally gentle playing, conjured echoes of those old Rathbone and Nigel Bruce films from the thirties. I liked these two, they helped you warm toes on old memories. Moriarty is also an old memory, mainly unwelcome, and Iain Grant played this epitome of a villain with consummate skill and theatrical panache. I liked not liking this villain, if you know what I mean. Tracey Chatterley trilled her various character bits with aplomb and Jessica Lacey, possessor of those much desired letters, turned in a fragile and convincing damsel in distress. It is not surprising that old Sherlock, uncharacteristically, fell for her charms. As I did for the effervescent bell boy Billy of Harry Rodgers, well he looked like a bellboy, jumping in and out of the set like a ferret on heat. I warmed to him as I did the contrasting old Dr Watson retainer Parsons (Richard Wood). You couldn’t see him jumping anywhere. But with a lugubrious persona that artists and photographers would kill for, you could not but like him. Chloe White did a decent directing job, even if she did mislay her scissors, but I do smack her wrist for not toning down Adam Butcher’s villainous sidekick Jim Larrabee. If this play had been the spoofish melodrama it probably should have been his heavily laid vocals may have been perfect. But Miss White didn’t direct it like that and a generally fine actor came over just a tad too strong. It is, of course, only an opinion. As is all the rest. So if I do tread any of the local boards, in a misguided reprise of my past, I trust the lighting will be suitably angled and the set firmly in place. Holmes and Watson, elementary my dears, would not have it any other way. Roy Hall