Sherlock Holmes has been a popular subject of reimagination recently. From the modernised take of the BBC miniseries to the procedural American series Elementary to the action packed Robert Downey Jr films and Ian McKellan’s moving take on the detective in his twilight years in Mr Holmes, the character is ripe for different interpretations highlighting different aspects of his mythos. As such, it’s almost refreshing to see such a traditional, almost quaint take on the character as the 1812 Theatre’s Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club.
Suicide Club offers us a Holmes in later middle age. Watson has moved out of 221b Baker St and the famous detective seems somewhat despondent and directionless. A concerned Watson follows him to a clandestine meeting of the titular Club, where aristocrats gather to take part in a deadly game of chance. Is Holmes suicidal, or is there an altogether different game afoot?
It’s pretty clear almost immediately that Holmes, despite his age and seeming lack of passion, has no designs on ending his own life any time soon. As usual, he is pursuing a case that interests him, as the Suicide Club may in fact have more dangerous intentions than allowing the morbidly depressed a dignified means of ending their own lives. So unfolds a twisting, turning mystery that fans of Arthur Conan Doyle and the many adaptations of his work will find a lot to enjoy in.
Frank Schrever makes for an engaging, likeable Holmes, capturing the aloof curiosity and witty dignity of the character with ease, presenting a very respectable take on the famous detective. Meanwhile, Chris Hodson is a somewhat more bumbling, flustered Watson than we may be used to, and the differing acting styles of the two can at times be jarring.
Rounding out the Suicide Club is an almost unrecognisable Chris Proctor as a wheelchair bound war veteran, Josiah Hilbig as an unfailingly polite enthusiast of unhealthy food and melancholy, Grant Lepan Walker as a haughty Russian nobleman with more than a few secrets, Michael Knuckey as a blustering German who may be somewhat less inclined to suicide than he first seems and Pip Le Blond as the immediately suspicious club secretary. It’s a colourful cast of characters, and all of the actors have a tremendous amount of fun in their roles. Geoff Arnold as Sherlock’s lazy, snarky brother Mycroft and Jennie Kellaway as Mrs Hudson very nearly walk away with the whole show in their few scenes while Amy Jenkins clearly relishes the role of the mysterious French femme-fatale who may-or-may not be directly involved in the sinister scheme underpinning all of this.
While all of the actors have a lot to do, often in dual roles, the over-the-top nature of their characters coupled with the occasional flashes of gallows humour tends to detract from the tension or sense of rising stakes, and at times the play threatens to veer into pantomime territory, begging the question of how seriously we should be taking any of this. By the time we reach the grim coda, the play appears to have settled on being a drama, albeit one that only wants to play it straight when it suits.
Furthermore, almost every cast member tripped over their lines at certain points, creating a sense of being under rehearsed that quickly became detrimental to the pace of the piece. While at first the kind of thing that can be easily ignored, by the denouement of the play it was happening so much that it sapped the conclusion of the sort of tension it might otherwise have had. That said, being opening night, I have no doubt that as the actors settle in the play will tighten up. The pieces are all certainly in place, with a strong cast, great costumes, atmospheric lighting, perfect music and a fun script. Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club is an entertaining, intermittently compelling play that will almost certainly improve as the run continues and the piece finds its rhythms.