THE SIGN OF FOUR at Greenwich Theatre
I thought Sherlock Holmes was dead, finally laid to rest by the definitive interpretations of Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett and Benedict Cumberbatch. But I was wrong - Blackeyed Theatre have given the great consulting detective a whole new lease of life in a brilliantly inventive adaptation of the novel The Sign Of Four which they presented last week at Greenwich Theatre.
Writer-director Nick Lane stayed true to the 19th century origins of Arthur Conan Doyle’s sociopathic hero by giving the piece a gothic setting (designed by Victoria Spearing) and turning the action into a sort of living comic strip in a nod to Holmes’s public debut in a sensational magazine serialisation.
The fast-moving but labyrinthine plot about stolen treasure and murder was developed in a string of equally fast-moving scenes, almost sketches, which perfectly captured the excitement, the cleverness and the wit of the book.
Lane rightly put the intriguing relationship of Holmes and Watson at the centre of the action and to that end he was aided by the terrific performances of, respectively, Luke Barton and Joseph Derrington. They in turn were given matchless support by Stephanie Rutherford, Christopher Glover, Ru Hamilton and Zach Lee who between them played the other dozen roles required.
These last four also played the live music – wonderful vignettes composed by Tristan Parkes – used to great effect during the numerous scene-changes. Who said actors have it easy? Rutherford, to give just one example, not only acted three key roles but also sang and played the bass trombone, french horn and violin.
The action rattled along at a rollicking pace until the denouement, when Lane swapped the comic strip for a more literary tone and allowed the character of Small (Lee) carefully to explain the events leading up to Holmes’ involvement in the case. The rallentando was highly effective and gave the production a darkness that suited it well.
Blackeyed’s mix of faithful recreation, gleeful melodrama, genuine emotion and knowing humour – I particularly liked the line “this is an oasis of art in the howling desert of south London” – was a take on Holmes I have never seen before and one I very much hope to see again. It’s just a shame that on the night I saw this production there weren’t more people in the auditorium to enjoy it.