THERE was a time when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes was not only the world’s most famous (fictional) consulting detective, but was also taken very seriously. You could call that multi-book-play-film version Sherlock Holmes Mk 1, pre-Moffat and Gatiss – but post-Moffat/Gatiss’s sexy, tousle-headed Sherlock with his swirling overcoat, quickfire dialogue and dazzling digital wizardry, we don’t view the great detective in quite the same way.
So any writer tackling the legend that is Sherlock Holmes now has to have his/her tongue firmly in the cheek and also take into account Sherlock’s curious relationship with Dr Watson’s wife Mary. Writer Simon Reade makes more than a nod to the BBC’s brilliant reinvention of Sherlock in his new play, which premieres this month at Bath Theatre Royal.
Robert Powell brings just the right blend of gravitas to his central performance as the great man in retirement, living in seclusion and under a (risible) alias on the Sussex coast, where a young woman, dressed as a man, is found, dead, on his private beach.
It is 30 years to the day since the dreadful scenes at the Reichenbach Falls, when Holmes’ nemesis Moriarty fell to his death. And then Mary comes to visit, with strange news of her and John Watson’s son James, who died in the First World War but is now revisiting them in their rooms at Baker Street (yes, you guessed it, at 221b Baker Street, where Mrs Hudson’s daughter is now working).
The premise of the story is clever – has the great man, like his creator Conan Doyle, become a devotee of the spiritualist movement? Has that formidable rational brain embraced the idea of getting in touch with the Other Side?
Cue the arrival of Mycroft, the arch-sceptic, embodied here by the towering, elegant figure of Roy Sampson, evoking not only Conan Doyle’s lofty super-brain but the Moffatt-Gatiss version, condescension incarnate. It is a very funny performance.
Liza Goddard has plenty to do and is utterly convincing as Mary Watson, a woman who will never recover from the loss of her son, who turns to an old friend as her relationship with her husband (Timothy Kightley) crumbles.
The staging, with a full-drop black curtain to signal scene changes, and only 221b Baker Street as a complete set, is clever, as is the use of technology – not the whizz-bang digital mastery of Sherlock, but the new technology of Watson and Holmes’ own time.
With delightful performances and a witty script, Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain adds another entertaining chapter to the archives of the immortal detective.