The world isn’t short of new Sherlock Holmes stories. Several hundred have been written since Conan Doyle hung up his pen, and in the main they stick closely to the character of the original stories. So why is it that, when bringing Holmes to the stage, dramatists feel the need to give the famously asexual detective a love life? It started with the ill-fated Sherlock Holmes – The Musical, featuring a woefully miscast Ron Moody in platform heels (he was not a tall actor) falling in love with Moriarty’s daughter. Now, in Sherlock Holmes and the Invisible Thing, writer Greg Freeman has Holmes falling for the feisty Lucy Grendle, to whom he previously lost a game of cards – again, seriously out of character – at a rendezvous at the Savoy.
Holmes, played by Stephen Chance, absolutely looks the part. Basil Rathbone incarnate, he has the aquiline features, patrician manner and razor-sharp cheekbones that scream Sherlock Holmes from every pore. A shame, then, that David Phipps-Davis’s stodgy direction leaves him spending much of the time gazing mournfully into space, hands hanging ineffectually by his side. For heaven’s sake, give the man a pipe to fiddle with, or a magnifying glass to polish. With the press night on the hottest day in London’s history, it must have been a relief for him to lose the deerstalker and ulster overcoat.
Holmes is accompanied by an enthusiastic Watson (Phillip Mansfield), channeling Stephen Fry at his most bombastic. Together with rough diamond Inspector Peacock (Doug Cooper) – think Alf Garnet minus the racism – the trio try to solve the mystery of the unknown corpse in the lake. Did Lucy Grendle (a pert Vanessa-Faye Stanley) really see him propelled lakewards by an invisible assailant? And what is the story behind the mysterious housekeeper Mrs Rochester (Imogen Smith)?
Leah Sams’ beautifully realistic set, a Gothic drawing room, is the perfect setting for this Victorian melodrama. It’s an old-fashioned, traditional play that could have been written at any time in the last hundred years; the references to slavery, exploitation and sexism add the only contemporary themes. When you’re presented with the set-up of Holmes facing an apparently invisible murderer, it requires an ingenious solution to reveal the truth in the final scene. Sadly, the denouement is idiotically implausible, leaving the audience feeling cheated of the finale that the two-hour performance deserves.
Author: Greg Freeman
Director: David Phipps-Davis
Producer: Take Note Theatre
Booking until: 18 August 2019
Booking Link: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/whats-on/marylebone/rudolf-steiner-theatre