Online and across the UK, audiences now have the chance to catch Blackeyed Theatre’s run of Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear. In case you have yet to read the fourth instalment in the Sherlock Holmes book series, the story is about the suspicious circumstances surrounding the murder of one John Douglas after Sherlock and Watson receive an ominous coded message that forewarns them of his death.
Stringently following the original timeframe of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel, the main body of this story is set in Victorian England, naturally, at one of fiction’s most famous addresses: 221B Baker Street. Unlike the source material, however, this production gives far more insight into the events leading up to the murder by interjecting a parallel storyline of an underground criminal society in gold-rush America. Set designer Victoria Spearing has created a versatile backdrop that fits both storylines. By choreographed manoeuvring of the few yet simple set pieces, the cosy study is quickly turned into a fine country estate, then a boarding house in Pennsylvania, and even into a rattling stagecoach.
Divided by years as well as the Atlantic, one story provides context for the other, though – as is fitting for any proper murder mystery – it is only at the very end that their true connection is revealed. Five actors (Luke Barton, Joseph Derrington, Blake Kubena, Gavin Molloy and Alice Osmanski) take on four times as many characters between them during the play’s two acts. It requires a strong cast to manage, and this bunch juggles different accents and costume changes without missing a beat. Joseph Derrington is the picture of a proper Dr. Watson, complete with walking stick and moustache. Luke Barton as Sherlock Holmes is rather lacking his usual pipe and deer hunter but makes up for it in mind-boggling brilliance.
Credit is also due to writer and director Nick Lane. Despite the play being on the long side and him sometimes spelling out his points rather excessively, he has managed to produce a gripping and classical murder mystery. By merry tradition we, the viewers, are being kept as much in the dark as poor Dr. Watson is. The mystery is fittingly convoluted and just enough information is given at just the right times to keep the audience invested throughout. There are some specks of humour, although they are few and far between, as well as some rather touching moments between the otherwise so emotionally detached Holmes and his loyal side-kick, Watson.
Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear is a follow-up on another Blackeyed Theatre production, Sherlock Holmes: The Sign of Four. Judging by some not-so-subtle hints towards the ending, The Valley of Fear will hardly be Blackeyed Theatre’s final visit at 221B Baker Street. It can easily be viewed on its own and no previous knowledge of Sherlock Holmes is necessary. The production will be touring England from now until the end of May 2023 and is also available to stream online here.
Review: Julie Renata Photo: Alex Harvey Brown