Sherlock Secrets – The game is afoot…keep up!

Two years after his public defeat of his arch-nemesis Professor James Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls; Sherlock Holmes is a shadow of his former self. Retreating from the world, Holmes has by now retired from detection and survives only by selling the details of his past cases to an unscrupulous journalist.

However, when Mycroft Holmes is arrested for treason and murder – crimes he apparently accepts the culpability for – Sherlock unhesitatingly takes on the case, despite his near-crippling personal demons. The Great Detective must pit his wits against an unknown and highly intelligent enemy who is clearly familiar with his methodology. 

He and Watson are in a race – not only against time, but against the hangman’s noose. 

NOTE – the trailer was shot in the historic prison cells at Leeds Town Hall


That seems the most appropriate one word response to last night’s showing of Sherlock Holmes – Best Kept Secret at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. The story is fast paced, ably facilitated by wonderful ever changing near-steampunk set pieces. The use of lighting throughout was particularly atmospheric. For much of the play, the majority of the stage was unlit, adding to the overall dark mood and themes while the music was strangely reminiscent of both the recent Sherlock TV series AND the Robert Downey Jn led films. Hats off to Nicolai Foster for bringing all these elements together in such a harmonious way!

Credit: Manuel Harlan

The Victorian motifs that we have come to know and love within the Holmes cannon and are mostly present and correct. While Mrs Hudson is never seen on stage, we are assured that she is pottering away in the background. The violin, deerstalker and pipe all make an appearance, however brief. One of my favourite touches was the “221B” reflected backwards to the audience in the door window. For most if not all of the production, the number is never presented directly to us, nevertheless this little nod to the informed is a delightful touch. 

As for the special effects…well they were just MAGICAL. I genuinely jumped a few times, despite being fairly certain that the West Yorkshire Playhouse wouldn’t actually kill off or maim any of its cast members! Massive credit here to Scott Penrose – I suspect that the effects that we noticed were merely the tip of the ice-berg and that a lot of traditional magic was utilised throughout. 

Regarding the play itself, I might be biased (and if you don’t know why, check out my interview with writer Mark Catley from earlier this month) but I feel it’s a worthy addition to the Sherlock stable, covering as it does, a period of time never really explored between the books in a believable way, true to the original characters.

Credit: Manuel Harlan

Rather than reinforcing the stereotypes that have haunted the series since it was first filmed; Mark Catley has grounded his characters in the books…though there are more than a few references that should jump out to an audience possibly more familiar with the detective and his amiable sidekick from the screen than the page. 

Here Andrew Hall’s Dr Watson is tough, dependable and with a darker streak than we have seen for a long time. Regardless, he remains a true companion and friend to Holmes and decent upstanding man. Inspector Lestrade – portrayed with a gruff elegance by Victor McGuire – is neither a friend nor colleague but is rather a man who despite being constantly frustrated by Sherlock respects him and his abilities. London might be bustling but it is also dingy and run down in parts – embodied perfectly in the exuberant Mrs Peasgoode (Kerry Peers), who appears to her relish her squalid and filthy visage. 

Credit: Manuel Harlan

However this play – indeed any Holmes interpretation – rests on it’s leading man and Jason Durr dominates the stage. His portrayal of Sherlock from despondent and depressed to hyper to drugged up and back again is convincing and compelling. He positively lights up during his varied interactions with Irene Adler (Tanya Franks is superbly enchanting!). More than mere energy, Durr makes the audience regard the emotional journey of an emotional cripple first and foremost. 

Credit: Manuel Harlan

The focus on the Holmes family was a particularly deft touch. Mycroft and Sherlock – aside from being saddled with daft names by presumably sadistic parents – have a lot in common in this production. Both are intelligent and fiercely competitive. Both struggle with social difficulties that result in their being removed a step from those around them. Both are aware of this in a rather heartbreaking fashion.

However, here, Sherlock is slightly ahead of his brother. Mycroft lives a deliberately insulated and controlled life, with each day following the next in an orderly fashion, accepting no deviation. There was a touch of the ‘umbrella’ in the portrayal here by Adrian Lukis that was delightfully fresh but still respectful of the original. Here, more than at any other time, we are able to see the positive impact that people like Watson have had on Sherlock, a humanizing effect. 

For a rollicking night out, I can’t recommend Sherlock Holmes Best Kept Secret enough. I laughed. I jumped. And I left hoping that this will be the first in a series of new and original Sherlock stories from Catley and Foster!

Based on the characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle
Written by Mark Catley
Directed by Nicolai Foster
Magic Consultant – Scott Penrose
Set and Costume Designer – Michael Taylor
Composer – Grant Olding
Lighting Designer – Ben Cracknell
Sherlock Holmes – Jason Durr
John Watson – Andrew Hall
The Journalist – Andrew Langtree
Mycroft Holmes – Adrian Lukis
Irene Adler – Tanya Franks
Inspector Lestrade – Victor McGuire
Mrs Peasgoode – Kerry Peers
The production, which previews on May the 18th, will run until June the 8th.
After the production, I bumped into Adrian Lukis and shook his hand. While he is excellent in this, all I could think was ‘Wickham. I’ve just met Wickham’ which TOTALLY added to my night!

promptly phoned my mum to brag!


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