In principle, Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain has all of the ingredients to make it a success: a top-drawer cast led by Robert Powell and Liza Goddard, a celebrated writer and director in Simon Reade and David Grindley and an interesting concept - placing an ageing Holmes amongst the technological developments of inter-war Britain. In practice, whilst there are certainly bright spots in the scene-setting and performance, the show is sadly let down by a slow first act, a weak and unsatisfying mystery and at times heavy-handed symbolism.
Set in 1922, The Final Curtain opens with an elderly Holmes retired on Britain’s south coast where he spends his time beekeeping and lamenting his worsening rheumatism. Powell’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes stands in stark contrast to contemporary portrayals of Holmes such as those found in the BBC drama Sherlock, Guy Ritchie’s cinematic Sherlock Holmes or the Johnny Lee Miller vehicle Elementary. He brings the gravitas that you would expect to the role, with his interactions with his brother Mycroft (Roy Sampson) and long-time assistant John Watson (Timothy Kightley) being particular highlights.
Soon, Sherlock finds himself dragged out of his quiet retirement and back to 221b Baker Street when a body is found outside his home and then he is unexpectedly visited by the estranged wife of his former partner, Mary Watson, who claims that she has been visited by the ghost of her and John’s dead son, James. Act two builds up more pace as suspicions are aroused and a potential motive is introduced. Mycroft Holmes is involved briefly at this point and his scene with Sherlock leave you wishing his part was bigger.
Barring a few odd staging choices, the production at the Opera House was excellent. The set design was inspired, with the 221b Baker Street set given a busy and cluttered depth to contrast the pastoral scenes of Sherlock’s home on the south coast but sadly there is little action in the first act, merely a seemingly unending dialogue on sore knees, inflexible backs and bafflement with the modern world.
The finale sadly disappoints. Each revelation either being easily deduced via clunky symbolism earlier in the play or impossible to comprehend due to no mention of it being made at all in the early parts. I left without the feeling of cleverness that comes from figuring parts out nor with the feeling that I’d been outfoxed by a brilliant writer.
It is a unique challenge to take a character as popular as Sherlock Holmes in a new direction, attempting to breathe new life into this oft-trodden format and it no doubt shows a detailed knowledge of Conan Doyle’s works to transport his characters to new locales and situations whilst keeping true to his original texts. For this, writer Simon Reade should be commended, but sadly, the execution of his novel idea falls short and lacks the subtlety or sophistication of the best depictions of the great detective.
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