Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure – Genesian Theatre plays a legend. (Theatre Review)
Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure
5th July to 9 August
Steven Dietz is almost as well-known for his adaptations of earlier works as he is for his very many original plays. He is one of the most performed playwrights in the United States and has an uncanny knack for contemporising classics that are in good need of a shake up, as in the case of Dracula, or that should be left alone, like Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde. However, the Genesian theatre is currently performing his Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure, a 2006 adaptation from the collective brilliant of William Gillette and Arthur Conan Doyle. William Gillette is (for those of you who didn’t know) the actor most famous for playing Sherlock Holmes in plays and a now lost film, and often worked with Arthur Conan Doyle in developing the character. Therefore the Steven Dietz adaptation has some lovely theatre history attached. It almost ends up being a beautiful celebration of the enormous contribution these two men made to the much-loved character, Sherlock Holmes.
The story goes, Doyle was tired of Sherlock Holmes taking all his time away from what he considered to be his more important works, his historical non fiction. So he decided to plunge Holmes and Moriarty over the Reichenbach Falls and be done with the pair of them. After suggesting this to his mother, who replied that he must not do this, he decided to go ahead with the plan and wrote ‘The Final Problem’ in 1890. However, true to his mothers predictions, the outcry loomed so large, Doyle was forced to revive Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1901, even if the story was set prior to the supposed deaths. This still wasn’t quite enough to appease the distressed crowds, so Doyle came out with the claim Moriarty was the only one who actually fell and died. It was only this revelation that appeased the crowds. Dietz includes this history when it comes to this adaptation, so that we spend a little time in the shoes of those audiences of the day. It is not until the dying seconds of the play that we know if Sherlock Holmes lives or dies.
True to the spirit of the Sherlock Holmes history, Genesian theatre have gone all out with this production, including mocking up the program to look like the version of the Newspaper that announced Holmes’ death to the world. It’s a nice touch and adds the right spirit for this lovely theatre experience, purely existing to pay homage to this iconic character. To enhance the sense of time and place, set designer Debbie Smith has added a mesh covered boxed off section of the set that serves remarkably well as a place for characters to act from memory, or reputation. In the case of Professor Moriarty (Marty O’Neill) this worked particularly well, creating an ominous expectation before the character formerly appears on the stage. Genesian have had a great year with their sets, and Sherlock Holmes adds another fine accomplishment to the list. Debbie Smith is also assistant director to Michael Heming both of whom do a great job in managing the rather convoluted plot around the stage, so that the audience never lose track of the many threads that will go into the inevitable tie-up that Holmes is so famous for. Dietz adds a lot of humour to the script, so Holmes remarkable powers of deduction (he can tell Doctor Watson moved his dresser away from the window by his fading tan) that occur as a little campy and far-fetched these days, are shrouded in witty lines that enhance the spirit of the excercise over the thrill over the mystery.
Still Holmes is Holmes and there is something about this character that captures the imagination, even when exposes as impossibly ridiculous. For this production John Willis-Richards has been given the difficult task of living up the William Gillette’s legacy and I’m thrilled to say he does so with great finesse, bringing Sherlock Holmes to life with a camp twist that suits the character perfectly, and probably William Gillette perfectly. It seems the most obvious thing in the world that Sherlock Holmes was gay, and despite the token skirt chasing, Willis-Richards gives Holmes a very contemporary dignity that is as funny as it is insightful. It’s a great performance and one of the stand out reasons to catch the production. John Grinstone is a lively, fun and interestingly empathic Doctor Watson. He brings his own dignity to his character, refusing any of that doting dumbness that Watson became famous for, instead choosing to imbue his Watson with an inner strength that makes him more like Robin to Holmes’ Batman than anything else. The pair reveal a relationship of surprising complexity, each supplying what the other lacks. Marty O’Neill is a fine Moriarty, suitably menacing looking, and appropriately slimy in his movements. Emma Medbury and Bec Piplica prevent the play from being a complete sausage fest, and their feminine presence is badly needed and well received, though each of their roles are very different. Tom Atkins and Marley Erueti are equally well grounded. It’s a small but effective cast. If Steven Dietz’ production has one problem, it is in the 6:2 ratio of men to women, which does add to a slight tedium around the middle of the play. Dietz had a great opportunity to write more females in (a female Moriarty would have been a fabulous idea – or even a female Holmes) and missed it, unfortunately. Still, this homage is exactly that, a proper, warm and cheerful acknowledgement of a character who has given the world hours and hours of suspenseful pleasure.