Sherlock Holmes and the Poison Wood

This is a co-production between the Watermill and Metta Theatre, and describes itself as “A new whip-smart and wickedly funny rock musical”. Well, it certainly does what it says on the tin…the show starts with rock guitar riffs, and launches into a show with plenty of laughs.

There was a lovely mix of the familiar parts of any Sherlock Holmes tale, mixed with the new and modern. So, we had mention of Holmes villain Irena Adler, the stock phrase “elementary my dear Watson”, as well as Moriarty, Watson and Inspector Lestrade, but this time Watson and Moriarty are female. And Lestrade has a penchant for crispy cremes and biscuits!

Sherlock and his landlady, nutritionist and business partner, Dr Amanda Watson, are running a detective agency in modern day 2024, with Watson taking charge of the PR and social media feeds. They agree to take on a new case, an unexplained death in the environmental protest camp at Oakenwood. Sherlock suspects his arch nemesis Jan Moriarty to be behind it. They head into a world of deepfakes, cancel culture, and digital manipulation, as well as environmental politics.

This clever script, intertwines all of this with themes around eating disorders, OCD, abusive parenting, cyber bullying, mental health, and other issues. It has a recommended age of 12+.

This musical came about as a result of a workshop at MTFest at The Other Place in 2023. It has been cleverly devised by writer/lyricist and director P Burton-Morgan and composer and lyricist Ben Glasstone.

The design of the production by William Reynolds, is very simply done, but is most effective. A stark white set, with a desk and chair sets the scene. The set was entirely created by second hand items. The Watermill Theatre has a strong commitment to ensuring its productions can be enjoyed by everyone. They hold relaxed performances, sometimes with sign language, and also, as in this one, have closed caption subtitles above the stage. Check their website for more details.

The role of Sherlock is being shared by Dylan Wood and Connor Bannister. For press night we saw Dylan, and very good he was too. As is often the case, this production is an actor-musician show, so Sherlock is straight on stage playing his rock guitar, only to be told off by Watson for making too much noise!

The small cast of actor-musicians really effectively tells this story. Dylan Wood’s Sherlock Holmes very effectively played the brooding, genius, damaged character. Together with Me’Sha Bryan’s Watson, they beautifully portray a very well matched duo of equals, with Watson giving as good as she gets. Me’Sha plays Watson with genuine warmth and humour.

Gillian Kirkpatrick as Moriarty, is chilling at times, although it is hard to say why without giving anything away! Her white suit is a lovely contrast to Sherlock’s black outfits. Her dismissive “People die every day” line, uttered on several occasions, underlines her sinister intentions.

EM Williams as Yorri Tramaky, is extremely compelling and gives a touching performance, with lots of layers.

The rest of the cast, Richard P Peralta as Lestrade, Loren O’Dair as various, often comic parts, and Jimmy Chambers as band leader and various parts, all very effectively portray their characters alongside playing various instruments, singing and dancing. It’s all very slick.

This is another hit from the Watermill. The humour, music, themes, and performances, are all extremely good, and the packed audience at press night, clearly lapped it up!

This show was reviewed on the 6th February 2024 and runs at The Watermill Theatre until the 16th March 2024.  Tickets availalble here: SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE POISON WOOD (watermill.org.uk)

Review written by Ruth Hawkins

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Photo credit: Mark Senior

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