Staff Writer/Fact Checker/Editor
Tell me something: if you were the head of a police force and found yourself at the seeming dead-end of a murder mystery, would you put your trust in a supercilious sleuth who is a little off his rocker to steer that ship towards the sun? Well, I probably would – it’s Sherlock after all.
Set in Victorian London, Greg Kramer’s critical, darling Sherlock Holmes is an adaptation that spins the original works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the direction of a classic, self-aware slapstick comedy that still somehow manages to keep your brain intact -- for the most part.
Our story takes place sometime after the Second Opium War between China and Britain in 1860, and an unidentified serial killer’s strike results in the death of Lord Neville St.-John and a drowned body. Desperate to find answers, Scotland Yard officers summon Sherlock Holmes (David Arquette) to piece the puzzle together.
What I find interesting about Kramer’s script is that the focus on the end goal is actually quite miniscule in comparison to the characters’ interactions, which fuel motives and unravel developments. This is, in essence, a character-driven narrative; notwithstanding its obvious dramatization of crime stories, it prompts us to explore the psyche – why people are the way they are, why they do what they do, and the societal conditions that stimulate the breeding grounds for deviant cultures. It is not difficult to imagine a supposedly inexplicable case like this in a realistic context – the late 20th century was a period when rampant poverty was at an all-time high in the streets of London, coupled with the legalization of opium among other substances, and upper-class civilians capitalized on these processes by engaging in profitable relations with delinquents.
And that is precisely what cunning mastermind Professor James Moriarty (Kyle Gatehouse) does, by protecting criminals in exchange for their loyalty and a share of their assets. Gatehouse’s portrayal is similar to that of a comic book villain who derives so much pleasure from his exploits, and yet you can’t help but be impressed by his ability to weasel out of trouble with his intellectual rival, Holmes.
Holmes himself is clearly enjoying his job, not because he is anybody’s white knight, but because he is delighted to be one step closer to outsmarting some poor sucker with deductive logic. In fact, the whole dialogue is practically rooted in banters between Holmes and other characters to surpass the other’s intelligence and punch lines. His craft in being able to vividly describe an event he didn’t even witness just by observing speech, body language and details is insurmountable. Even though the audience can gather who is responsible for the murders within the first act, this play stresses the importance of learning about the significance of characters’ intents and actions through Holmes’ unpacking of the clues. Arquette’s portrayal is quotable, crass, irreverent, and we absolutely love him for it. He’s a cheeky blighter, plain and simple.
James Maslow ennobles his role of Dr. John Watson, Holmes’ empathetic associate who we can all relate to. No matter how many times Holmes shoots him down, he takes it with class and dignity and even retaliates with a wit of his own. He is charming without the pomposity.
The scene transitions are seamless at the stage design is vibrantly gritty. I really like how it is all arranged as a sort a human slideshow, with actors functioning both as part of the set and props that they are operating as well as background characters to be interacted with, allowing for complete immersion and no out-of-place moments. The combat sequences are some of the best examples of this, with actors scaling long metal staircases that would circle each other as they engage in “cane play”. I also appreciate the many small, comedic touches scattered throughout the scenes, like when Maslow placed his hat on the foot of a dead body on a hospital bed (sorry, I adore morbid humor). The eerie interpretive movement and drug trip segments set the tone for a cesspool of crazies.
The production is competently paced and structured; I never felt its length of two and a half hours since it succeeds in captivation. It also helps that the show is organized into chapters, indicated by titles that would appear on all sides of the projection screen, so that the audience can follow this rather intricate plot, which does lend itself to some interpretation as the ending can potentially be seen as anti-climactic. Depending on your view, it might be a flaw of the production, since there is otherwise much buildup throughout the rest of the narrative.
Speaking of flaws, there are a few that keep the performance from warranting the Midas touch. Voice control is the major component some actors should improve on, especially Arquette. I understand that several cast members are not British, but there were some accent and meter inconsistencies in speech that led to slurring and word mispronunciations. Additionally, a couple of actors, most notably the Constables and Patrick Costello as Inspector George Lestrade, were occasionally roaring their lines, and while this play is boisterous by nature, the exaggerated shouting at times made it difficult to comprehend certain lines. This may have been to compromise for the music, which was subtle and bouncy in some scenes, while brash in others.
All in all though, Sherlock Holmes is a lot of fun while still treating its audience to mental stimulation. As a criminology student who was looking to wind down with something lighthearted, I approve.
Directed by Andrew Shaver, Sherlock Holmes is playing at Ed Mirvish Theatre on 244 Victoria Street until Nov. 8. Finding tickets is no mystery! Go to: http://www.mirvish.com/shows/sherlockholmes for more information. Please be advised that the production contains guns, stroboscopic lighting, electronic pipe smoking, depictions of drug use, and onstage fog and haze.