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  • Henry Longstaff

Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear - Southwark Playhouse

Far from elementary

Sherlock Holmes The Valley of Fear
Photograhy - Simon Vail


Adapting classic and beloved books for the stage is no easy feat and Blackeyed Theatre’s production proves this fact. Somehow oversimplifying yet overcomplicating Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s final Sherlock Holmes novel, the adaptation is a drought of dynamism that limps towards its final conclusion.

When the renowned detective receives a cypher linked to a man’s sudden demise he of course agrees to investigate. Accompanied by his willing colleague Dr Watson they uncover a past of secret societies, a hasty plot and a missing dumbbell all whilst their friendship is put under considerable strain as darker forces seek to interfere. This is a classic Sherlock Holmes mystery with two conundrums to uncover but I’d suggest picking up the original text instead of a ticket to this production.

The assembled cast, each tackling multiple roles, work hard in injecting intrigue into the proceedings but far too many times the various characters for each actor blur into one, the separation between them weak and ill-thought-out. When a narrative depends on remembering the various supporting characters who might be key to unravelling the mystery maybe a heavy use of multi-rolling is not the best idea. Bucking this trend though is Joseph Derrington who leads the narration as the battle-hardened Doctor John Watson but lends enough differing physicality and dialect to his secondary characters that there is no confusion. His role as guide through the story is highly useful as for the most part, the plot only seeming to budge when he was advising us around the narrative.

Bobby Bradley makes for good Sherlock Holmes, the cool, unemotional delivery to his lines clean and efficient but like with much of this production, there lacks a spark of adventure and furore that hooks us into the chase. Other characters are seemingly undeveloped and forgotten about, an example being Blake Kubena’s secondary role as the keen local detective seemingly vanishes never to be seen again. Many roles are barely explored and this hampers the attempt at a satisfying conclusion as you’re left asking who was that again? There are occasional glimpses of twists and turns born from Conan Doyle’s novel but they are sadly rare.

The biggest flaw arguable with this adaptation is its pacing. This show drags. The first half in particular is an utter slog of repetitive, dry scenes setting off a few drooping heads amongst the audience. The direction does nothing to attempt to quash these issues and instead, we are left with a script that sees-saws between sluggish dialogue and rapidly force-feeding us plot. Beyond the the final conclusion, whose momentum is awkwardly shackled by the time-jumping plot, there is no tension or tempo (the musical score unable to locate any either) which is a gargantuan issue for a Sherlock Holmes story. There has to be urgency and intensity and sadly this production has neither - the most excitement occurring when an audience member dropped and shattered their wine glass.

Further undermining the piece were various and obvious mishaps with the sound and lighting operation. The cast forced to ignore mistimed door knocks and premature lighting changes - simple stuff for an opening night you’d have thought? An underwhelming foray into the world of Sherlock Holmes in which the murder was self-inflicted.

Running until 13th April - Tickets

Photography - Simon Vail

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