Sherlock Holmes – The Best Kept Secret

BCS 1I have lost count of the number of books, plays, films and games that purport to disclose a previously hidden fact about my colleague (shades of BBC Sherlock there) Holmes. Google has over twenty million references to such secrets – has anyone realised that Google is the ultimate commonplace book?

So when I go to see “Sherlock Holmes – The Best Kept Secret” then I know it cannot be so. When the cast list includes Irene Adler, my suspicions are aroused. Moriarty does not appear in the cast list but, apart from The Woman, he is the worst kept secret. Putting them together is therefore no surprise (the second Robert Downey Jr film did just that) and potentially a little yawn inducing.

The first few minutes of anything like this are quite a challenge for the writer. How does he (or she) introduce the characters that are so well known but maybe not from my original stories but from the latest screen incarnation – Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman or Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Lui? Some people may think I am a woman!

BCS 2So here we have Jason Durr as Holmes and Andrew Hall as me – Hartbeat meets Coronation Street – but we also have Lestrade (Victor McGuire from Goodnight Sweetheart) and Mycroft (Adrian Lukis who was also in Heartbeat and, as was informed by my companion for the evening, Peak Practice, though I never warm to medical dramas for obvious reasons).

We hear of Moriarty and we actually hear Mrs Hudson but never see either of them.

So then, none of this is new, and when Adler appears (the stunning Tanya Franks who certainly eclipses many women) I am beginning to wonder why I bothered to stray from my cosy London nest this far north.

But as Act One unfolds I start to recognise this Holmes as the troubled person he became during The Final Problem and the different person that came back from The Falls. I am portrayed, as often, as the willing companion who occasionally puts a foot wrong, perhaps a little too Nigel Bruce in this case.

The writer only made one mistake that I noted. The story is supposed to have been set in the gap between The Final Problem and The Empty House but it must have been later than that. There is a reference to those words Holmes spoke to me when I was shot by Killer Evans in The Three Garridebs – “You’re not hurt, Watson? For God’s sake, say that you are not hurt! This was many years after his return from the Falls.

What was achieved though was through some pure stage magic, some clever prestidigitation that was almost worthy of the cinema and very well executed in a provincial theatre.

BCS 3Three performances were outstanding, Jason Durr has a remarkable range that he used to good effect to move from lethargic to energetic Holmes (with a little madness on the way) that had elements of both Brett and Cumberbatch. Adrian Lukis as Holmes brother Mycroft gave depth to character that we see very little of in most productions (and too much of in the second Downey Jr film). Finally, The Woman steals the show, not least for her appearance in Holmes drug-induced delerium that certainly made half of the audience pay close attention.

I will not give away any of the plot except to note that it builds up through the two acts to a dramatic climax. I came away pleasantly suprised and wanting to see it again to make sure I did not miss any of the twists and turns through this intriguing plot. But it has finished its run in the North and we must now wait for it to reappear in the West End.



The Secret of Sherlock Holmes

I had started to write this review after going to see “The Secret of Sherlock Holmes” starring Peter Egan and Robert Daws at the Duchess Theatre, Drury Lane, London back in 2010 but got distracted with other matters.

With the sad passing of one of the best actors to portray me, Edward Hardwicke, in May 2011, I was reminded that he played me alongside Jeremy Brett’s Holmes in the same play when it was originally brought to the stage through a collaboration between Brett and Jeremy Paul who dramatised a number of my stories for the Granada Television Sherlock Holmes series. Jeremy Paul also sadly died in May 2011.

The play itself is very much a story in two parts. Act 1 is a compendium of elements from the Canon, starting from our first meeting and what led up to it and ending with Holmes disappearance at the Reichenbach Falls, somewhat rapidly followed by his startling return, seven years later, causing me to faint. So at the end of the first act I am out for the count!

This first act, except for maybe the closing few minutes, is like nestling down in your favourite armchair with a pipe, a drink and a favourite book. The latter in this case being the whole Canon. I sat there during this first act with my own words flowing from the two actors towards me causing me to smile, laugh, and even shed an occasional tear as the memories also came back to me.

Act 2 is an entirely different matter. I will not spoil your potential enjoyment of the whole play by revealing the detail of what “The Secret” is except to say that it involves Moriarty and who he really is.

The play can be a disappointment to those expecting a classic case consisting of a problem, an investigation and a solution. All three elements are, in fact present, but not in the form you might usually expect.

I do have a concern about the basic tenet of the case, if I can call it that. It is another of those devices that authors, film-makers and playwrights use to extend our relationship and our adventures together into areas where they do not belong and manipulate our characters in a way that at least stretches credulity and at its worst I find distasteful. Although I cannot claim to know all there is to know about Holmes, we have spent a good deal of time together, sometimes under very difficult, not to say dangerous, circumstances and I find suggestions of this sort unpalatable. I have read Michael Dibdins “The Last Sherlock Holmes Story” and found it distasteful for these same reasons.

Back to the play and Peter Egan does a reasonable job portraying Holmes but he is no match for Brett. I suspect that those who were lucky enough to see the Brett/Hardwicke version of the play thought they were seeing Holmes playing Brett rather than the other way round. I have also seen Egan (with Philip Franks) in The Hound of the Baskervilles and in this Egan seemed to cope with this much better. I could believe he was Holmes in The Hound. In The Secret he was less comfortable and therefore less believable. This strain showed but may have benficial in adding to the required characterisation in Act 2.

Robert Daws is perhaps a little more emotional than me but he handles Holmes’ occasional put-down (“It is true that you have missed everything of importance”) very well, and many must wonder why he (or rather I) put up with Holmes for so long given the apparent disdain with which he refers to my attempts at deduction.

Going back to the original Brett/Hardwicke performance, the reviews were at the time much kinder than for the more recent Egan/Daws performance – largely I suspect because Brett had become the definitive Holmes of recent times.

The script of the play was first published in 1989 but is now difficult to find. A recording of one of the Brett/Hardwicke performances by a member of the audience has recently come to light but, of course, being recorded from audience is not of very good quality. I am not aware of any recordings of the Egan/Daws presentation. The play is also run occasionally in the USA and one of my favourite podcasts, I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere, interviewed the team responsible for one such production in 2007.

Something I learned from Hardwicke is that Brett performed the play at the Mayfair Theatre as a private performance to an invited audience before the full public production. This version had a narrator and some of my words were delivered by a third person so there were three people performing this version.

Sherlock Holmes – The Last Act

I  was invited to see Roger Llewellyn in David Stuart Davies’ play “Sherlock Holmes – The Last Act“. This was a somewhat daunting prospect for me. The play is set in 1916 and Holmes has come back to our Baker Street rooms from his cottage is Sussex following his two years of retirement.

What has brought him back? My funeral!

Roger Llewellyn is the only person in this play though through his marvellous virtuoso performance we get to meet me (my middle name is apparently Horatio and I speak with a Scottish accent), Mrs Hudson (first name Martha and sounds like Janet from Dr Finlay’s Casebook) plus Lestrade and many others. He changes accent and persona quickly and with ease and there is much humour from David Stuart Davies skill with the Canon. The second half is somewhat darker, delving, with much conjecture into Holmes’ early life. Mysteriously, The Hound of the Baskervilles appears in the play after references to The Final Problem and The Empty House when it should be earlier but it suits the mood of the second half. I will not spoil your enjoyment by telling you how it ends but I hope you will be moved – I was!

David Stuart Davies wrote this play after seeing Roger Llewellyn’s first theatrical encounter with Holmes in an adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles. He wrote this solo drama specially for Llewellyn and the show premiered at The Salisbury Playhouse in 1999, won five stars at Edinburgh, was selected as one of The Top Ten Fringe Plays, and has toured world-wide ever since with over 550 performances so far!

The play explores the mind of the real man – not the thinking machine. An unexpectedly passionate and secretive man, with a cutting sense of humour (as I know all too well!)

Stripping away the infamous clinical façade, Holmes reveals fears, weaknesses, and the devastating consequences of the dramas of his formative years. The whole being ‘deduced’ from the ‘clues’ in the Canon.

Following the success of this play, Davies wrote a second Sherlockian venture “Sherlock Holmes – The Death and Lifewhich was premiered at Guildford in March 2008. This play deals with Arthur Conan Doyle tiring of what he sees as the intolerably arrogant Sherlock Holmes, and suggests that he created the malevolent Professor Moriarty to dispose of him. But the author’s dangerous strategy, combined with his passion for raising the spirits of the dead, has rather more bizarre and dramatic consequences than he bargained for!

Audio versions of both plays are available (see the links above).

David Stuart Davies has written extensively about Sherlock Holmes. His non-fiction books include:

His fiction books include:

  1. Sherlock Holmes and the Hentzau Affair (1991)
  2. The Tangled Skein (1995)
  3. The Scroll of the Dead (1998)
  4. Shadow of the Rat (1999)
  5. The Veiled Detective (2004). Explores the relationship between Holmes, myself and Professor Moriarty
  6. The Games Afoot (2008)

He is the editor of several collections for Wordsworth & Collectors Library including:

He has written and narrated commentaries for the digitally re-mastered Basil Rathbone Holmes films.

If you get the chance to see it, please do. You will laugh and you may cry but you will not be disappointed!

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