views from the gods
saints and sinners of the stage and screen
Photography © Daniel Swerdlow
We frequently comment on how styles, tastes and shows come in waves. We've seen it already with fairytales, Tennessee Williams and now the current zeitgeist seems to be Sherlock Holmes. Moffat and Gatiss' offering, Guy Ritchie's big-screen adaptation, Big Finish's audio dramas and the Johnny Lee Miller vehicle Elementary. What is it about the sleuth that has caught people's - and Let Them Call It Mischief's - imaginations so?
But dig a little deeper under the surface, and you find a wealth of inspiration for Tim Norton's two-hander, not least PG Wodehouse (coincidentally, the second cast for Jeeves and Wooster is just about to tread the West End boards). Not that either Sherlock (Nico Lennon) or Watson (James McGregor) are bumbling fools. The devil here is in the details - the symbiotic relationship, the give and take and, to some degree, the socially inept addict Holmes needing dear old Jim to teach him how to dance. In the same vein, Withnail and I jumps to life in Lennon's contortion around his red chair, and laconic energy, along with Watson's world-weary acquiesce.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. The Final Revelation of (a deliciously Conan Doylian title) is predicated on the conceit that Holmes is a little tired. His successful deduction of a constantly complex series of crimes is turning him into, forgive the pun, an Irene Idler. He's also turning more and more to stronger doses of cocaine to fill the meantime. As such, he's found a solution - sack off the Moriartys, Morans and Milvertons and commit the perfect crime himself. I mean, you just would, wouldn't you?
Photography © Daniel Swerdlow
From the outset, and Ele Slade's wonderful revolving stage evokes the old Rathbone movies in feel, if not in action. And, honestly, it's nice to have a return to the traditional Penny Dreadful-esque ethos, rather than all of this modern Action Manning and blogging while mobile apps unlock Pentonville - here, the team have almost refreshed Holmes by taking it back to its roots. That's not to mean either the writer nor director Danny Wainwright have kept it staid, but to disclose quite what they have done would give away an (honestly, unfortunately overly telegraphed) ending.
Suffice to say there's plenty of nods to the bigger picture ideas (not least a literal interpretation of Nietzsche's God Is Dead philosophy) and a metatextual element that, while run ragged, rather works. Norton's script is packed with bon mots, nods to the audience and also Sherlock's history, such as the aforementioned Rathbone's Scarlet Claw). It's the paradoxical irreverence with respect - a hard act to pull off. But it works.
And for their part, Lennon and McGregor give us what we expect but also what we don't. Watson, an older than his years medic is portrayed as such, all moustache and bluster. Sherlock, the addict, is his usual genius addict straight self - but with a twist. Wainwright ekes out a homoerotic subtext beloved by the modern fanbase but that doesn't empower them to be online "shippers", rather understand them as an old, married couple. If anything, Sherlock's androgyny is more pronounced to hurry it along.
Despite its trappings of being "on trend", this is a more respectful, if comedic, Sherlock Holmes than anything in recent memory. It should satiate the mystery fans while not alienating a wider audience, and it's better for it. Even if they knowingly use the term "Elementary, my dear Watson." For that alone, they should be shot.
The Final Revelation of Sherlock Holmes opened on 18th February and runs until 2nd March 2014 at The Pleasance.
Nearest tube station: Caledonian Road (Piccadilly)
The Final Revelation of Sherlock Holmes at The Pleasance, Islington
The Final Revelation of Sherlock Holmes by Tim Norton
Review by Ardy
It’s hard to summarise this play without spoiling it, but I’ll give it my best shot.
The basic premise of the play is that it’s 1930 and Holmes’ drug use has made such a dent in the finances of our favourite pair of investigators that Watson has to sell stories of old cases to the Strand Magazine. An invitation from the Royal Society of Military Surgeons provides a welcome distraction. Holmes announces that he wishes to speak before the Society about the “perfect crime” which he has committed, Watson is distressed (to say the least), and things go down from there.
The play is a two-hander set entirely in the rooms in 221B, in which respect it is similar to The Secret of Sherlock Holmes. The set is evocative of that time period. It’s not quite as crammed with Victoriana as the 221B that we may remember from Sidney Paget’s illustrations or the Granada show, but the piles of papers on Watson’s desk and the red armchair that Holmes uses to sit/balance on/drape himself across in the centre of the stage serve to create a sense of a 221B that, not unlike the characters inhabiting it, has seen better days.
I found it incredibly well-written in terms of the characterisation of both characters, especially of Watson, whose hidden and oft-forgotten depths are subtly brought to the fore. Their relationship is completely believable as that of two people who have been living together for a long time. The darker and more unpleasant sides of their lives are exposed as the play unfolds, but the script never loses sight of the things that bind them together in the first place.
Both actors are having a lot of fun with their roles. James McGregor is fabulous as Watson: suitably indignant about Holmes’ self-destructive tendencies, yet deeply caring at the same time, and his comic timing is impeccable. Watching Nico Lennon’s Holmes break down over the course of the play was heartbreaking. There are some really funny scenes, the most memorable of which is probably Watson teaching Holmes how to waltz. The twist at the end hits hard when it comes – personally, I only called it a few sentences beforehand.
The only slight issue I had was that the actors looked a bit too young to be Holmes and Watson in 1930, but this is easily forgivable. They and their director Danny Wainwright brought a youthful energy to the play, which could easily have been too static to really draw the audience in, but instead was funny, compelling, and genuinely heartwawrming.
Overall, I would recommend this without hesitation. Like all good Holmes-related things, you’ll enjoy it even if you wouldn’t call yourself a Sherlockian, but if you are one, it’s likely you’ll enjoy it even more.
The Final Revelation of Sherlock Holmes is running at The Pleasance Theatre Islington until March 2, 2014. Tickets are available from the Pleasance Theatre Box Office for £10.00-£14.50.