Watermill Theatre - Sherlock's Last Case
26th September to 2nd November 2013.
Review from Newbury Theatre.
In the comfortably furnished sitting room at 221b Baker Street, Holmes and Watson are reminiscing about some earlier cases. In a surprise visit from an attractive woman claiming to be Moriarty’s daughter, she alerts Holmes to a revenge threat to his life from her brother Simeon. Holmes and Watson go to a dank cellar to meet the brother, with dire results for Holmes. Is he really dead? It certainly looks like it, and that’s only Act One.
Sherlock’s Last Case is a jolly pastiche of the Holmes genre by Charles Marowitz, in a style that reminded me of the radio comedy series Bleak Expectations. Christopher Godwin (looking eerily like Peter Cushing, who played Sherlock Holmes many times in films and on television) plays Holmes as a haughty patrician, treating Watson, Mrs Hudson and Inspector Lestrade like dirt but rather taken in by the charms of Liza Moriarty (Victoria Grove). Adam Kotz as Watson puts up with playing second fiddle but comes up with some surprising ideas of his own as he shows a tougher side of his personality.
Alister Cameron’s Lestrade is the usual bumbling policeman. Alexandra Mathie has fun as Mrs Hudson, and even gets a song and dance. Ralph Moriarty (Roger Covivati) has a small part and a hoarse voice, and The Visitor (Hector Whidsporing) has an even smaller part – blink and you’ll miss him (I did).
The play’s comedy derives from the sending up of the stuffy strait-laced Victorians (Holmes: “Boorishness parading as wit – could anything be more British?”), but with some hilarious one-liners and naughty double entendres thrown in, and the cast go at it with aplomb.
Designer Simon Kenny deserves a special mention for the period sitting room set which transforms in a most impressive manner into a damp brick-lined cellar, and the special effects are particularly good.
Director Maria Aitken’s production takes a well-matched cast and a story with surprising twists and serves up an enjoyable comedy with some very funny moments.
Review from The Times.
We’ve had so many ho-hum Sherlock Holmes plays over the years that the heart doesn’t soar at the prospect of another. This one has credentials, though: it was written by the radical American director Charles Marowitz, first as a one-acter performed in London in 1974, then in this two-act form seen on Broadway in 1987. And it is a return to British theatre for its director, Maria Aitken, who now works mostly in America. Her last play over here was another bit of genre reconstitution, The 39 Steps, which is still running in the West End after seven years.
Don’t expect Sherlock’s Last Case to follow suit. This is a pretty good production of a pretty poor play. It is driven by a sour reading of the relationship between Holmes and Watson as they battle a death threat from the secret son of the late Professor Moriarty. Yet Marowitz doesn’t make the case for the liberties he takes (I’m trying not to give too much away). His heroes’ buried resentments play as imposition rather than insight. So we’re left only with some decent dialogue, a few jokes, and some twists and turns that the overlong, information-heavy speeches give you time to second-guess.
Still, the lean, lively Christopher Godwin invests his ageing sleuth with the right sort of instinctive acidity. Alexandra Mathie makes Mrs Hudson a fizzing Scottish neurotic, Alister Cameron is a boobyish, uniformed Lestrade, Victoria Grove impresses as Moriarty’s husky-voiced secret daughter — yes, he had twins — and if Adam Kotz’s fitfully Welsh Dr Watson can’t make paranoia an easy fit for the world’s favourite sidekick, well, neither could Marowitz. Aitken keeps the pace up, aided by Simon Kenny’s fine set, which switches nimbly between 221b Baker Street and a dark cellar where hideous deeds happen and hidden truths get uttered. Some nice details, then: but as an attempt to add spice to a modern myth, this is no Sherlock.
Review from the Newbury Weekly News and the British Theatre Guide.
The Watermill Theatre undoubtedly has another hit on their hands with this impressive UK première production of Sherlock’s Last Case.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional detective Sherlock Holmes is perhaps one of the most famous and enduring of private investigators loved by millions across the world.
In Charles Marowitz’s witty parody, Sherlock’s Last Case, Holmes receives a mysterious letter from Simeon Moriarty, the apparent son of his arch enemy Professor Moriarty, accusing him of murdering his father and vows to seek his revenge.
When a memorial plaque is delivered bearing the date of Holmes’s death, matters take on a more sinister twist.
An unexpected visit from Liza Moriarty, splendidly played by Victoria Grove, adds another layer of mystery as she implores Holmes not to challenge her twin brother.
The play particularly explores the personal relationship between Holmes and his loyal assistant Dr Watson and we discover some intriguing insights. But all is not as it appears with Watson’s built up frustrations at his treatment by Holmes finally exploding in the most dramatic and sadistic way.
Alister Cameron, in a fine characterization as Inspector Lestrade, provides the steady but misguided hand of New Scotland Yard in trying to help solve the mystery.
To reveal what happens would spoil the experience of seeing the play but it has so many twists and turns that it will keep you guessing as you piece together the clues and is very funny.
Christopher Godwin is excellent as the acerbic, cold, intellectual eccentric sleuth Holmes who lives a Bohemian lifestyle. He is looked after by his long-suffering Scottish housekeeper Mrs Hudson, delightfully played by Alexandra Mathie.
Dr Watson is superbly performed by Adam Kotz; his change in personality as he seeks his revenge on Holmes is both startling and impressive.
Simon Kenny’s stunningly stylish set perfectly captures the atmosphere of 221B Baker Street and delivers a few surprises, is beautifully lit by Richard Howard with an inspired sound design from Mic Pool.
Skillfully and astutely directed by Maria Aitken (who directed the international success The 39 Steps), this is an outstanding production. Highly recommended.
There are reviews from the Basingstoke Gazette ("for a thoroughly entertaining evening of theatre, you can’t fail at The Watermill... the acting was brilliant"), The Stage ("the production switches from comedy to suspense thriller with aplomb"), Marlborough People ("the high standard of acting from the whole cast brings this play together, and once again, an ingeniously designed set and superb sound effects add to the impressive impact of this show"), the Oxford Times ("a play of such marvellous entertainment value... the play, expertly directed by Maria Aitken, grips us to the end" - four stars), WhatsOnStage ("in the end it is still no more than an ingenious take on an old favourite with a bracing dash of Grand Guignol" - three stars) and Henley Standard ("mostly very funny with some lengthy moments of menace and a final 30 seconds to knock the breath out of you... a theatrical highlight").