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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Secret of Sherlock Holmes
Duchess Theatre  Summer 2010

Jeremy Paul's short portrait of Holmes and Watson is in effect a race through the Collected Stories, omitting the stories.

Paul has stitched together the little bits of characterisation and background that make up the first page or two of many of Conan Doyle's tales, to give a nice sense of the relationship between the two men when they weren't off solving crimes.

Those who know the stories will recognise the references I'm about to drop - Watson's watch, Holmes's violin, cocaine, the cluttered attic theory of memory, Irene Adler, Lestrade, Mycroft Holmes, Watson's marriage, Professor Moriority, Reichenbach Falls, beekeeping. (If you don't know the references, their significance is explained as they are mentioned.)

What we don't get is the Sign of Four or the Hound of the Baskervilles or any view of Holmes actually at work. And for at least half the evening that works quite nicely if you don't expect too much, the playwright, director Robin Herford and the two actors creating attractive pictures of the two iconic figures and even giving them some fresh colours.

Peter Egan makes Holmes considerably warmer and more human than many have played him, with secret pains and moments of self-doubt, and with a real affection for his friend. Robert Daws' Watson is even better, not the comic figure we're too familiar with, but a man of feeling who is quite close to Holmes in intellectual ability and probably his superior in moral sense.

The play falls apart somewhat in the second half, when we get to The Secret, which is neither original nor convincing, and which is presented so confusingly that I'm honestly not sure whether the playwright wants us to believe it or see it as evidence of a mental breakdown in the detective. (I suspect that the actors aren't too sure either, since their control over their characterisations, and even their lines, wavers significantly in this scene.)

For all its quiet charms, this is at best a very thin evening's entertainment. Holmes fans can take some pleasure from being reminded of their favourite bits, and fans of the two actors can enjoy a couple of hours in their company. But you really have to come to it with considerably reduced expectations to find it worth 40 a ticket.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Secret of Sherlock Holmes - Duchess 2010