sherlock top

Picture: Simon Vail

Sherlock Holmes:The Valley of Fear

Derby Theatre


Sherlock Holmes novels and plays were very popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a celebrity in the English speaking world and a leading and influential Spiritualist.

The Valley of Fear was his fourth and final Sherlock Holmes novel. It was first published in serialised form in The Strand magazine between September 1914 and May 1915.

The book was first published in New York in 1915. Like the first Holmes novel A Study in Scarlet, The Valley of Fear has two parts. The first titled The Tragedy of Birlstone, and the second, The Scowrers.

Aficionados of Sherlock Holmes will not be disappointed by this traditional treatment of the story. The author’s transatlantic appeal is mirrored in this transatlantic story line.

Following the huge success of Blackeyed Theatre’s 2018 production of The Sign Of Four, the iconic detective is back in another gripping tale. Awash with adventure, mystery and Dr Watsons’ shrewd deductions, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s thrilling final Sherlock Holmes novel is brought to life in Nick Lanes’ spectacular new stage adaptation which includes original music and songs by Tristan Parks.

A mysterious, coded message is received, a warning of imminent danger, drawing Sherlock Holmes and the faithful Dr Watson into a tale of intrigue and murder stretching from 221B Baker Street, London, England to an ancient, moated manor house and the bleak Pennsylvanian, Vermissa Valley, USA. The latter setting offers an edgier, grittier, sharper edge . As the investigation proceeds Holmes begins to unearth a darker, wider mysterious web of corruption, a secret society, and the nefarious deeds of Professor Moriarty.

Adapted and directed by Nick Lane, The Valley of Fear is in capable hands. His adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde for Hull Truck Theatre was innovative and outstanding. Lane knows what to do with classic English literature. However, he has a particular challenge here with a non -linear storyline.

The original novel is split into two distinct parts, the first comprises the conventional whodunit. The second part, which is lengthier than the first, is the backstory of the characters who find themselves the subject of Holmes’ enquiries. Lane takes the two very distinct stories and interweaves them, using a cast of five role-switching actors performed on a single set lavishly designed by Victoria Spearing which joins the two worlds.

The costume design by Naomi Gibbs is sumptuous. This storytelling in parallel does require close concentration as we try to work out how the London and Pennsylvania locations, and their events, conjoin. The role swapping/sharing demands of the production are hugely demanding on the cast with Alice Osmanski playing three parts, and Blake Kubena working similarly hard, but offering a consequent essential energy which is vital to the production.

Bobby Bradley is a satisfyingly quirky and quixotic Sherlock Holmes, yet an unnervingly psychopathic hoodlum Baldwin. Joseph Derrington is wry, dry, and quintessentially English as Watson and as a pairing with Holmes works well. Gavin Molloy has great fun with shadowy criminal mastermind Moriarty.

This is a technical and artistic triumph for Nick Lane and his hardworking cast combining a 21st century reboot with reverence for the original for a production which continues at Derby to 23-03-24 and continues on tour.

Gary Longden


Index page Derby Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre