Sherlock Holmes In Trouble

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"When you have excluded the impossible," said Sherlock Holmes, "whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." I doubt if even he could have made much sense of the impossible and the improbable that roams the Royal Exchange Theatre in dizzyingly equal portions in its crazy summer show, Sherlock Holmes in Trouble. It's a spoof, like no other, on Conan Doyle's famous creation, dreamed up by Mark Long and Emil Wolk. The remark I over- heard most during the interval was, "What on earth is it all about?" Nothing, is the answer. That it is simply a giddy romp is clear from the bemusing opening, bristling with anticipation of dark deeds and derring-do.

We next find ourselves in the familiar Baker Street setting where we encoun-ter Mrs Hudson (like you've never seen her before, in the form of Joyce Henderson), tweedy sidekick Watson, and Holmes, "exploring his feminine side", in drag.

From there we're asked to accompany Holmes on the last great untold tale, "through daring plots, amazing escapades and dubious disguises, on a journey back in time to the beginning of civilisation to face the greatest enemy of all - Satan himself". And that's about as much sense as anyone could make of this surreal extravaganza - a wonderful, self-indulgent vehicle for director-cum-vaudevillian Wolk's unfettered imagination. Part circus, part pantomime, part quasi-improvisation (Wolk's background is, after all, the deliciously anarchic Sixties company The People Show), it slips in and out of gimmicks and gags, some genuinely funny, some painfully laboured. Sherlock Holmes in Trouble doesn't so much go off at too many tangents as hurtle itself fearlessly into an abyss of unfettered comic ideas. As Holmes himself said, "the whole thing is irregular", but it's also enjoyable tosh.

Sporting with corpses, a grotesquely funny pathology sketch, witty asides about the theatre and the acting profession, dollops of references ladled up from the melting pot of popular culture, and a steady stream of scenic surprises reflect the twists of this non-plot with a relentless brightness. There are plenty of jokes that raise anything from a belly laugh to a titter and often a groan, and your children will love it. For anyone who hasn't left their brain at the box office, however, it does begin to pall. Has everyone at this address forgotten that in comedy, less is more? But this is the silly season and there is much to relish, especially in the cut and thrust of furiously hectic action which makes good use of the theatre's round space, and a kaleidoscopic soundtrack that changes the mood at the strike of a key, including a delightful homage to silent films: cue "the chase".

The energetic ensemble as a whole is terrific, with Lloyd Hutchinson and Jason Watkins working hard as Holmes and Watson, and the acrobatic Miltos Yerolemou all but stealing the show as Two Times. Three stars it may merit as an open-and-shut case, but five stars to the company for its high-octane performance and the sheer spectacle and exhilarating action of it all.

Until 9 August (0161-833 9833)