Sherlock Holmes: The Sign Of Four

Malvern Theatres


Sherlock Holmes has been reinvigorated in many styles since his creation by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle so can a new version add anything fresh?

At first glance, this adaptation from Blackened Theatre and produced by New Theatre Royal Portsmouth and South Hill Park Arts Centre looks like it will be a traditional fare of Victoriana and stiff upper lip, judging by the poster.

What transpires quite quickly is an edgier performance with a healthy dose of tongue-in-cheek comedy interspersed through the murder mystery.

But what makes it even more refreshing is the live music. The cast all play instruments beautifully - from a saxophone and guitar to flute -as well as acting out many roles convincingly. This live element really adds to the atmosphere and a uniqueness to what is already a quirky production.

The stage is bare but for intriguing pieces of furniture that are quickly constructed in various clever ways throughout to create different scenes. 

Meanwhile, material from three bright red saris hang as a backdrop. As the plot involves an Indian link, this is a good shout and another of the small touches that have obviously had a lot of thought put into them.

Despite this innovative scenery, there is still the ambience of Holmes' cosy Baker Street residence and there's an emphasis on listening to the story unfold rather than just watching the action.

The mystery gets going when the elegant Mary Morstan turns up at Baker Street seeking help from Holmes to find her missing father. Watson is besotted at first sight, which also leads to a romantic sub plot in this enjoyable adventure.

It leads to murder, a treasure hunt and a satisfyingly complex plot, which is probably why this show has a recommended age of 11+.

Over two hours, the team of just six actors swap between characters in a fashion similar to that seen in touring productions of The 39 Steps or The Woman In Black.

Playing Sherlock Holmes in a suitably arrogant fashion is Luke Barton, who is a confident, strong and likeable lead. There's a good rapport between Barton and Joseph Derrington as Watson, which benefits the show.

Christopher Glover particularly impresses as he jumps between many extreme characters, which gives him a chance to try out various accents. The whole of the cast, which also includes Stephanie Rutherford, Zach Lee and Ru Hamilton, does well though under the directorship of Nick Lane.

There is a tendency that famous characters like Sherlock or Poirot can attract tedium when done to death, but this fascinating production is innovative and different enough to make it worth seeing. To 18-05-19.

Alison Brinkworth


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