Sherlock Holmes fan Ian Waller discovers some bright spots in this new tale from the great detective, but a plot that leaves promising opportunities undeveloped proves ultimately frustrating
Sherlock Holmes is getting old. His knees ache, he’s no longer engaged with the technology and news of 20th century Britain, and he just wants to be left alone in his retirement in Sussex to care for his bees.
However, adventure is never far from this master detective and when a body is discovered on a nearby beach, followed by an unexpected visit from Mary Watson, the wife of Holme’s great friend and biographer Dr Watson, Holmes is drawn into one more case.
And so the game’s afoot as Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain opens at The Theatre Royal in Bath. The plot is an original story by Simon Reade that relies to degree on the audience having at least a basic knowledge of the back story of Conan Doyle’s world famous sleuth – addictions, enemies, methods and all. However, while there are enjoyable elements, largely the result just isn’t as gripping as it could have been – less the Final Curtain and more the mysterious case of the missing plot.
The play starts with great promise, with an aging Dr Watson embracing the new technology of broadcast radio to entertain listeners with a tale from the casebook of Sherlock Holmes. Indeed, Timothy Kightley’s Dr Watson is one of the highlights of the production, bringing the character across with the charm and warmth of a favourite elderly uncle, full of traditional values but intrigued by a new world of technology and science. The action then switches from the radio waves to Holmes’ new home and the gruesome find.
It’s also at this point that, for me, the story begins to falter. For an actor with the pedigree of Robert Powell, he just didn’t allow this most fascinating of characters to grip the audience. An aging Holmes who questions his very role in life should make for a fascinating study, but instead the staid production and often over-wordy script fails to ignite.
Yes, undoubtedly things do step up a notch or two following the intermission, with the action moving to 221B Baker Street, a setting which sees Holmes reinvigorated with new life. However, as the mystery develops, so the holes show, complete with a most unconvincing twist. What’s more, I’m afraid Liza Goddard’s Mary Watson is simply too unconvincing a character, played with little depth.
Fortunately there are bright spots. The occasional humourous exchanges between Holmes and Anna O’Grady at the young housekeeper Miss Hudson are great fun, while the enjoyable if not particularly typical-of-the-character comments from Roy Sampson as Holmes’ brother Mycroft bring laughs from the audience. Ultimately, there are the seeds of some great ideas here, such as how an aging Holmes would deal with his fading powers and how his reliance on the support of Watson has affected both of their lives, and not always in a positive way. It’s just that they’re not drawn out with any depth or study.
If you’re looking for a gently distracting couple of hours of theatre at one of the West Country’s best venues, Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain at the Theatre Royal Bath may well serve you well. If, however, you demand more from the ongoing tales of one of literature’s most enigmatic figures, I’m afraid you may well be left wanting.
Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain runs at The Theatre Royal Bath until Saturday 5 May. For more details please click here.