As one of the earliest Holmes stories and not one of the best known, the Sign of Four is perhaps not the best of choices for a theatrical adaptation. A relaxed attitude to drugs and racism that were 'of its time' and now even seem 'charming' make for a tricky translation for modern-day sensibilities. Similarly challenging is the classic setup of the story - relying so heavily on witness testimony and background stories, this tale of betrayal, thievery and murder could actually be rather dull to stage. In this way, Free Range Productions have done well to produce an engaging hour of theatre but it is in the production itself that many problems lie.
This Holmesian adventure takes us from central London to darkest colonial India and dank prison camps, following a chest of treasure that has found its way, somehow, to a Miss Mary Morstan. During her visit to 221B Baker Street, she swiftly becomes the object of Dr John Watson's affections and introduces the mystery-solving pair to a host of eccentric characters who, in one way or another, have their part to play in this complex tale. This injection of romance into an otherwise action-based drama is refreshing when compared to other Holmes mysteries and here certainly lends itself to the over-acted, hammed-up direction of the play. Indeed, Finty Kelly's Morstan is a highlight and a wonder in elaborate over-acting. However until this twist is introduced, we're unsure as to what exactly the cast are trying to do - despite the tiny venue, actors seem to be of the If I Declaim Loud Enough I Shall Be An ACTOR school of drama: an exaggerated form of theatre which was in no way matched by the action of the players. The play itself is sometimes hilarious in its staging and sparse use of props but sometimes just looks amateuristic.
For those with a love of the original stories this is still a lovely presentation of one of Conan Doyle's earlier works, but those prone to over-analysis (and an objection to the deerstalker hat being worn by a Victorian gentleman in London when it was only really deployed while hunting enormous hounds across Dartmoor) may leave a little disappointed.