Sherlock Holmes and the Whitechapel Fiend, Barn Theatre, Cirencester

SHERLOCK Holmes was a fictitious creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The Whitechapel Murders were the unsolved murders of 11 women in the three years from 1888, and Jack the Ripper is the name given by the press to the presumed perpetrator. Charles Dickens is the best-known and probably most prolific chronicler of Victorian life. All have an enduring life in the minds of readers, film-makers and historians, as well as the burgeoning army of fans of “true crime.”

So what better subjects for Toby Hulse and Ross Smith to take as a starting point for their new play, Sherlock Holmes and the Whitechapel Fiend, on at Cirencester’s intimate and inventive Barn Theatre (until 9th March).

And it is everything you could possibly want it to be, full of wit, whimsy, shock, horror, style and substance, and performed by four marvellously versatile actors swapping roles with an astonishingly delighted abandon. They are directed by Adam Meggido, the man behind a couple of the early and hilarious plays-that-went-wrong, bringing all his physical theatre experience and split-second timing skills. The terrific set, designed by Jason Denvir, utilises not one but two pits, allowing atmospheric scene changes as the multitude of characters drift and zip across the stage. There’s even a procession of Dickensian favourites thronging the streets in a right pea souper.

Joseph Chance, Helen Foster, Phillip Pellew and Chloe Tannenbaum personate Holmes, Watson, Mrs Hudson, Lestrange, a number of Rippers, suspects, policemen, reporters, newspaper sellers, women of the night and other typically Victorian characters – or at least Victorian as we understand it to have been from the penny dreadfuls and from the stories woven and reworked by Charles Dickens and published in weekly and monthly instalments in various magazines.

All this with a vigorous nod to the “fake news” of today and cleverly disguised references to social media, herd susceptibility and the human condition of excitable belief in the worst.

I cannot recommend this show enough, and I am sure it will have the “legs” it needs to take it on a triumphant progress from its Cotswold debut. But you might just want to be one of those who saw it right at the start.





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