Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear ★★★ Southwark Playhouse (Borough) | Mar 27 - Apr 13, 2024

Hardcore fans of Sherlock Holmes will probably enjoy this stage version of Conan Doyle's last novel featuring the super sleuth, but for others it has some definite drawbacks. The narrative is presented as two parallel stories which gradually come together: the mystery of a man murdered in a moated manor, which Sherlock is called upon to solve, and the tale of a society of criminals in Pennsylvania that terrorise the valley that is their home. For the average consumer of detective fiction it is not hard to guess where we are going, but the plot plods along at a rather ponderous pace. The time spent following the machinations of the Pennsylvania gang seems drawn out, and we just kept wanting to get back to Holmes and his devilishly clever deductions. Unfortunately, when the dénouement does come it isn't all that surprising. The real strength of this production is the cast who do a superb job of inhabiting different characters and making each of them satisfyingly individual. Bobby Bradley is a splendid Holmes directly out of the Basil Rathbone tradition. We also thoroughly enjoyed Joseph Derrington's under-appreciated Watson. Derrington gets it just right and never overplays the comedy. Blake Kubena also rings true as the mysterious stranger who appears in the small Pennsylvanian town. Full marks as well to Alice Osmanski and Gavin Molloy who put in strong performances as a wide variety of characters, from the fussy Mrs Hudson to the super-villain Moriarty. The reason for the latter's appearance in the show is unfortunately never really exploited, and it seems a shame that more was not made of this connection. Similarly, not much is made of the interesting frictions between Watson and Holmes. Both these interesting plot points are skirted over in favour of the protracted wild west story. While the plot of Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear may be a bit creaky and the recounting of it rather convoluted, there's lots to enjoy in the accomplished performances and the revival of Conan Doyle's iconic characters.

Rated: ★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Simon Vail

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