As a fan of Arthur Conan Doyle’s enigmatic and famously hyper-intelligent super sleuth, I was intrigued to see this production by the appropriately-named Tobacco Tea Theatre Company. From murder mystery to meta-theatre,
This production feels like it is getting bogged down in dialogue and tied up in layers of a mystery whose basic narrative doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.
As mentioned in the blurb, Holmes (Jasmine Atkins-Smart) has accidentally killed one of his own clients: the farcical sequence that follows appears to suggest that Holmes is completely oblivious to his part in the deed. The motives for this apparent murder, and the mastermind behind it, are revealed as the production goes on. It soon emerges there are a number of candidates who have laid claim to the crime, from James Moriarty to Watson himself. Inexplicably, telegrams also arrive with news of crimes taking place offstage that are sort of related to this first murder, only not really. Quite frankly, it all seems a bit muddled.
Going against canon is not a problem in itself, as there is little doubt that Conan Doyle’s Sherlock would not be as ignorant as this one, but there is a lack of consistency which makes this production hard to follow. Is Watson the real mastermind after all, or is he naively playing into Moriarty’s hand - or has Sherlock hoodwinked everyone once again? The convoluted answer remains unclear and deprives the production of a satisfying end to this mystery.
A good crime drama often has multiple suspects and several possible solutions, to keep the audience guessing until the very end. However, by giving Watson several moments alone with the audience throughout the the show, where we are privy to his own interpretation of events, we are neither left entirely guessing nor brought completely into the secret. As Watson opens and closes the play, it would have made sense for this to be his story; I’d like to see less of Moriaty’s monologues (and I never thought I’d say that) and more of a focus upon one plotline in particular.
As a multi-rolling trio the group do admirably well at creating the scruffy scenes of Victorian London, with shoe shiners and paper boys making welcome additions to the character line-up. There is also an enjoyable section with housekeeper Mrs Hubbard (played by Joshua Phillips), who has been unwittingly intoxicated by Sherlock as an experiment. However, for the most part, this production feels like it is getting bogged down in dialogue and tied up in layers of a mystery whose basic narrative doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.