The year is 1894: three years since the world-famous Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis Professor Moriarty plunged to their deaths in The Reichenbach Falls.
Classy and erudite
As a spare man in a too-big jacket struggles to come to terms with being the primary mover in his own life, we are introduced to Dr John Watson (played with great dignity by Michael Roy Andrew). In the years since the Reichenbach accident, Watson seems to have spent the time meandering aimlessly about his old rooms in Baker Street, trying to conjure the spirit of his old chum under the guise of ‘checking the mail’.
But the strange calm of this catatonia is about to be pierced by a cryptic letter, the murder of society card player Ronald Adair, the resurgence of the Moriarty syndicate, and a less-than-mysterious hunched bookseller…
The show is based on Conan-Doyle’s short story The Adventure of the Empty House, for which Holmes was reincarnated due to public demand… a public demand which never seems quite to be sufficiently sated. This adaptation will be more than enough to scratch any Holmesian itch: it is classy and erudite, with a rewarding adherence to the source material, and visual character representations which chime immaculately with the Sidney Paget originals from 1903.
There is a lovely sense of truth underpinning the piece, and a refusal to admit any sorts of sensationalism or silliness. Limited - as it is - by Fringe demands, the piece wisely chooses to allow the text to dominate, and this respect for linguistic artistry lies at the heart of its success. Perhaps the sound effects could be tweaked a little, and the action rely rather less on superfluous exits and entrances, but the overall atmosphere goes some way to creating the gloomy, fog ridden London of legend which is all but a character in its own right.
Nigel Miles-Thomas is excellent casting as Holmes, a figure haunted by how his own brilliance has ‘othered’ him. He may know baritsu, but in the more basic arts of emotional connection he remains gauche and unsure, pathetically grateful for friendship but unable to articulate what Watson’s omnipresence really means to him. Miles-Thomas dominates the stage, dwarfing Doctor Watson and prompting us to ponder again the chemistry of human interaction and why we choose the ones we do to journey with us. Whilst the story is well-told, in the hands of these two fine actors, it is the nuances of existence that reel us in… a stare, a smile… whatever it is we need in order to get through each day. In this interpretation, Sherlock’s affectations and well-rehearsed witticisms are deployed as armour, something to buy him the peace and constancy within himself that Watson – less extraordinary, less insufferable – already has. Over time, the Holmes plots may have become hackneyed and the catchphrases trite: but whilst we can still luxuriate in their familiarity, it is the return to the bones of this uneven, awkward yet enduring friendship that continues to enthral.