In the recent glut of Sherlock Holmes adaptations, it seems rather predictable that a fringe show picks up on this now rather tired duo’s detecting antics. It feels that there is little to add to the existing Holmesian set-up, what with Hollywood giving us an heavy-on-action/light-on-detecting blockbuster and the BBC regaling us with a modern, sociopathic and a-little-too-Dr-Who-for-it’s-own-good take; therefore, it is with particular delight that I can report that Theatre (abridged)’s version does do something new with this material: scrambles it up to create something entirely new! The result is a mixed bag, but there is a truely enjoyable, original strand flowing through their work, and even though this particular show is only really barely above average, the idea here is a strong one: a little finesse and this would be a show I could whole-heartedly recommend.
How do you perform Sherlock Holmes today? Do you take the BBC’s approach and modernise everything, creating a dark, twisted version of Elizabethan bonhomie, or take Hollywood’s approach and make it a “cool” action-thriller with poor British accents? Or just recreate the classic, almost torpid Basil Rathbone adaptations? It seems predictable that such fare will be picked up by fringe theatre, and it is fantastic fun to see these classic tales re-interpreted in the now almost ubiquitous Fringe adaptation: the condensed, abridged all-of-the-stories-in-one-go act. The result is as fun as you would hope and expect, and this particular production, Sherlock (abridged), did manage the nigh-on impossible, and give an original take on the great London detective: that being said, little else about the production was truly impressive.
The basic idea here was great (take all of the Sherlock Holmes stories and condense them into a new, original tale), but the execution was not too exciting. While the final result was enjoyably funny, and the performances from Matthew Woodcock and Peter Davis were accomplished, there were a whole host of flaws, first and foremost the lacklustre script. Individual jokes were well-written and performed, including a wonderful moment showing Sherlock’s musical talent (easily the funniest joke of the night), as well as the nicely scripted opening (introducing the concept of the show), but little else impressed. The cohesive mystery that needed solving was not at all engaging, nor was it that funny: the plot floundered very early on, and never really came back again. It is commendable that the two performers kept it going, but it was just so flat: at no point moreso than a long, pointless voice-over at the end, which was neither funny or needed: definitely worth excising.
It is also a shame to see such talented performers struggling against a script: they wrote it, surely their writing should allow them to perform to the best of their abilities? Instead, costume changes were ridiculously slow, and the central disguise-conceit was over-confused by the two cast members already swapping costumes left, right and centre to cover all characters. This show could have easily done with an extra performer, or at least someone doing live voice-overs: acting with pre-recorded voice-overs is never a good idea. The only character not hidden behind a curtain or involving someone running off to put on a fake beard was also the most pointless: a sock puppet. Not necessarily a bad idea, but terribly poorly executed: a white sock with eyes, with the actor performing Watson doing a poor Brooklyn accent: lazy and sloppy, and not worthy of the production.
It’s a shame to see a show where a central concept and the main performances are so strong but everything else is a bit slipshod. Peter Davis and Matthew Woodcock are indeed talented performers: they must have been, as I still enjoyed myself immensely despite picking holes in most of the production. Their comic timing and interplay is excellent: now, all they need is proper production values, a better script, and they could be so very much better.