Theatre review: Sherlock Holmes – The Best Kept Secret, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds


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The Independent Culture

The Sherlock Holmes franchise has been assiduously exploited on the written page, on stage, cinema and TV ever since A Study in Scarlet announced the arrival of the world’s greatest detective back in 1887.

For this brand new story, Leeds’ writer Mark Catley has turned to a brief and apparently unexplained gap in Holmes’ fictional CV in which he returns from the celebrated death grapple on the Reichenbach Falls with arch enemy Moriarty. Holmes is a broken man, his back hideously scarred, his mind in an even worse state.

He has given up detecting and is lurking round his Baker Street flat in his pyjamas. The violin stands forgotten in the corner, the Briar pipe un-puffed, his deer stalker hanging limply on the back of his door. He can’t even be bothered to be rude to people.

It’s all a terrible state of affairs – especially for the loyal Dr Watson who when he is not anointing his hero with cream (something he clearly enjoys a great deal) is urging him to get on with the dirty business of detection.

Holmes for his part seems more interested in selling his story to a ghastly cor-blimey caricature of a newspaper reporter. Then, thankfully, something happens.

Holmes’ brother Mycroft, who most of us will have got to know in the BBC’s hugely popular Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch, is in trouble.

And from here the plot thickens. At times it thickens so much that you might want to give up trying to work out the best kept secret and just enjoy the ride.

But there are some decent comic moments along the way in this slap-sticky, steam-punky romp.

The characters send themselves up, Watson camps it up and Sherlock nearly screws it up.

Of course, in the end he doesn’t but he does threaten to melt in the arms of The Woman, Irene Adler. This again recalls that scorching S&M encounter between the human logic machine and his alluring female nemesis in the recent TV series.

Yet for all its pace, swirling fogs and thunder claps, the stage version seems tardy compared to the small screen and its digital wizardry - despite the best efforts of Jason Durr, Andrew Hall and Tanya Franks as Holmes, Watson and Adler.

Yet the audience clearly loved being in the presence of their hero and the applause at the end signalled this as a popular hit.