Sherlock Holmes : The Valley of Fear

The play Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear, adapted for the stage by Nick Lane from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original text, certainly was a mystery.

The production, featuring a cast of only five, heavily relied on actors playing multiple roles, which is usually fine. However, the costumes, consisting nearly exclusively of suits, made it challenging to distinguish between characters. Fortunately, the talented cast compensated for this by delivering intense mannerisms and accents.

The plot revolves around a mysterious, coded message warning of imminent danger, drawing Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson into a tale of intrigue and murder spanning from 221B Baker Street to an ancient, moated manor house to the bleak Pennsylvanian Vermissa Valley. As Holmes unravels a trail of bewildering clues, he discovers a darker, wider web of corruption, a secret society, and Professor Moriarty's sinister work.

Starring Bobby Bradley as the iconic Sherlock Holmes and Joseph Derrington as Dr John Watson, the pair commanded the stage and had perfect chemistry. Scenes, where these two match wits, are some of the most enjoyable in the show and provide much-needed comic relief.

Joining them in a plethora of roles are Blake KubenaGavin Molloy and Alice Osmanski. While delivering a variety of mannerisms, Kubena thrives as Jack McMurdo, holding together the American adventure and then flips completely to the giddy Holmes fan and local English Detective White Mason.

Standing out among Molloy's roles would be Body Master McGinty. This villain was vulgar to watch and provided a well-balanced hue between discipline and leadership inside his secret society house.

Osmanski held the fort as the only female and played every woman in the script. Her Mrs Hudson was delightful and inspired, contrasting her German-accented Ettie Shafter impressively. While Osmanski developed a deep character for each role and differentiated them efficiently, she faced the same issue as the men: costumes and staging hindered their performances.

The staging was clumsy, with blackouts that offered nothing to the performance. Early in the show, these blackouts are less noticeable as the characters sing through them. Then, this falters away in what felt like a forgotten possible motif. Including the songs also felt ambiguous and was a way to fill the silence rather than add something to the performance.

Minimal modifications were often made during scene changes, which appeared to be only done to signify a new location. This could have been creatively achieved with curated lighting for each setting, improving the costuming, or various other ways; however, it was instead shown by changing the angle of a table.

It's disappointing that in Nick Lane's adaptation and direction of a fantastic plot from an iconic author to the stage, the best part of this show was the original work. 

Some scenes lacked the pace they needed, especially at the end, where tension builds only to be cut down with a slow blackout, a slow scene and then, ten minutes later, arrive back in the heat of the moment with no audience enthusiasm.

While Sherlock Holmes: The Valley Of Fear is an incredible story, this production needed a lot more work from the creative team to allow the cast to shine as they should have.

This show was reviewed on the 28th March 2024 at Southwark Playhouse Borough where it runs until the 13th April 2024.  Tickets available here: Sherlock Holmes: The Valley Of Fear - Southwark Playhouse

Review written by Ryan Lenney

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Photo credit: Alex Harvey Brown

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