Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain is at The King’s Theatre this week (Mon 28 May to Sat 2 June) taking us back to the end of 1922, 221B Baker Street, a retired Sherlock Holmes, and a Dr Watson now embarking upon a new career as a psycho-analyst and making a radio broadcast on the brand new medium of radio via the newly formed BBC.
Sherlock Holmes is by any standards of popularity a phenomenon, and his global recognition makes him one of the most recognised fictional characters (if not probably THE best known), in the world (alongside other well-known names that include Mickey Mouse and Tarzan). Outside of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories, the character has been added to, embellished, and adapted to so many variants (particularly in the USA where the different copyright laws made the character public property long before its availability in the UK). This version of Sherlock Holmes is no different, taking elements from the stories and Hollywood films (particularly the Basil Rathbone ones) and merging them into something new. The added twist here is the merging of Sherlock with his creator Arthur Conan Doyle as we explore spiritualism and the paranormal in the quite aptly named “The Final Curtain”. There are a few little twists to this story as we go along, and although they are pretty obvious early on, I will as usual with “thrillers” leave the audience to find them out for themselves.
This new play from Simon Reade with direction by David Grindley is an affectionate nod to both Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his greatest literary creation and supporting characters. The very nature of the simple format of mostly single room settings and a small number of only four lead characters (often only two on stage) with a heavily dialogue driven script does mean that a cast with the skill to perform what I call “no hiding place” theatre is required, and Robert Powell (Sherlock Holmes), Liza Goddard (Mary Watson) Timothy Kightley (Dr Watson) and Roy Sampson (Mycroft Holmes) are perfect for a production like this as they all have years of acting experience to bring to their respective roles. There are times, however, when script does not seem to flow too well and we get rather cardboard cut outs of our principals at times. The script is, however, full of tongue in cheek references to the original stories, and there are nice touches here to Sherlock as not only a lonely man in his retirement, but one paranoid of a revenge attack upon his person by old enemies. This Sherlock is far from perfect and has a few very obvious weaknesses and old personal addictions too. Nice touches also with a feeling that many of us of a certain age will recognise, modern technology all around that we do not really understand the workings of.
Robert Powell and Liza Goddard are excellent “sparring partners” here and the script for the most part gives them the ammunition to do battle with one another. As always, the relationship between Sherlock and his brother Mycroft is an interesting one, and again their lives’ history is woven into that of their creator. Nice to see here Dr Watson having his own identity outside of being Sherlock’s assistant. In a story like this though where the use of Dr Holmes is not for Sherlock to explain his theories to the audience, we are left with a rather odd friendship.
Anna O’Grady as Miss Hudson/Rose (maybe a nod here to another classic television programme , and of course to Mr Holmes original housekeeper Mrs Hudson) gets some good one liners in both her roles.
The set here is for the most part simple, but well designed (designer Jonathan Tensom) and appropriately the use of a sliding curtain across the stage as sets change very slickly works very effectively here. Some of the 1920s technology here is a bit of a mystery though and it is obvious that somewhere along the production stages someone with a lot more knowledge of early 1920s technology should have been brought in to give advice. The combination telephone with its hand held speaker and receiver is quite a few years before its introduction (late 1920s in the UK) and a re-look at what 1920s home recording devices were capable of is needed.
We have, for a Sherlock Holmes story, a few loose ends that are never really tied up properly and you will have to decide for yourself if the final scene is needed. A nice touch too to see that our programme has its own little mystery as to who plays “the tramp”.
Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain is not a classic piece of mystery theatre, but it is an enjoyable production suitable for all the family…a pleasant sit back and watch the story unfold night out at the theatre, and sometimes that is all you need. No great meaning, no hidden messages, just a very competent cast with many years of professional experience as actors doing their jobs well.
Review by Tom King