Sherlock Holmes - A Study in Fear
Civic Theatre, Chelmsford
Wednesday 10th October 2012
It seems that Arthur Conan Doyle's version of his iconic character's struggle with arch nemesis Professor Moriarty in The Final Problem does not go quite far enough for the Rumpus Theatre Company. They have chosen to embellish the story with an interwoven plot from Robert Louis Stevenson's Jekyll & Hyde, in a surreal twist to the already suspenseful detective adventure. Not necessarily a Sherlock purist, I understand the need to extend the content of the short stories to make them fit a full length play, but this is an unimaginative merging of two contemporary stories that do not sit naturally together.
A bare walled set with a desk and just a few chairs represent the various locations and modes of transport required, which should have made for slightly faster, smoother scene changes in Act 1, but did help to maintain the pace in Act 2. Aside from some curiously shaped fixed spots, there were some effective lighting designs and sound effects, which helped evoke moods and flesh out locations. I especially liked the moving lights in the windows of the excellent sounding trains, and the whole look of the scene at the Reichenbach Falls.
Performed with gusto, a three man team perform all of the characters involved. Nicholas Briggs plays the deducing Sherlock with energy and an assured confidence that suits the character well. Straight, assertive and full of intent, his Sherlock carries the story with dexterity and he performs the bizarre additional denouement with skill. His best friend and sidekick, played by Ian Sharrock, is characterised as an altogether too bumbling Watson for my taste. A military army doctor, the character deserves to be intelligent and courageous in his own way, challenged by Holmes' superior intellect but not baffled by it. Sharrock was undoubtedly entertaining in his portrayal, eliciting the majority of the evening's laughter, but there is plenty of humour in the content of Arthur Conan Doyle's original work so as not to require the dumbing down of Watson.
An evening that generally made up in execution what it lacked in writing and direction. Perhaps a previous story conveying the menace of Moriarty should precede an attempt at The Final Problem, to help build the audience's suspense at the horror of his deeds. An entertaining interpretation of Sherlock himself however, interestingly staged.