Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear

Sherlock Holmes, The Valley of Fear, Credit Alex Harvey Brown-09408 (1)
The Valley of Fear
Photo credit: Alex Harvey Brown

The game is afoot once more, as Blackeyed Theatre have adapted the Sherlock Holmes story The Valley of Fear into a brand new stage show. This production is currently touring the country, and follows on from the events of The Sign of Four – with Luke Barton and Joseph Derrington reprising the roles of Holmes and Watson for this latest mystery.

When we first encounter the detective duo, they are in between cases – a state that Holmes finds intolerable. However, he soon finds stimulation when a letter arrives and he identifies it as being from Porlock; it offers Holmes a mystery to get stuck into, though the case seems to reach something of a dead end before it even begins, when Porlock gets cold feet. But Porlock hadn’t counted on these two communications being enough for Holmes to deduce a lead – he realises that he’s been sent a book cipher, and quickly identifies an almanac as the book. From this he deciphers the message (warning of a plot against Douglas of Birlstone House) and the investigation has begun…

This play doesn’t just follow Holmes & Watson’s investigation, instead scenes alternate between this and the back story which contextualises the murder they’re trying to solve, taking us to America and the world of the Scowrers (a criminal gang, whose presence leads Vermissa Valley to be rechristened ‘The Valley of Fear’). This is absolutely necessary, as there is a lot to unpack which is required to understand the murder investigation, however this much exposition does mean the first act is quite heavy-going. Once it reaches the second act, and all the groundwork has been laid, there is a bit more fluidity and flow to the story – you can almost see the pieces of the jigsaw falling into place as the two narratives come together. Another advantage of presenting it this way is that the audience can try to solve the case at the same time as Holmes!

As well as slight changes in costume, the switch between present-day England and America in the recent past is achieved with the inclusion of songs as the set is rearranged; this is a nice touch from director Nick Lane, and a much more imaginative style of scene transition than is often employed – it adds to the storytelling and keeps the audience interested, as well as being practical. There are also some impressive action sequences in the production, overseen by Rob Myles as action designer and carried off with great commitment by the cast. Victoria Spearing’s set and Naomi Gibbs’ costume design should also get a mention, as they instantly transport the viewer back to the late 19th century.

There is exceptional work from the cast of five, portraying 19 named characters between them. Perhaps in an ideal world, whoever plays Holmes and Watson would stick to those roles alone to stay above the story, but as it is everything runs seamlessly – whether at Birlstone House or in Vermissa Valley. Alice Osmanski brings a comic touch to Mrs Hudson and the housekeeper at Birlstone, contrasting brilliantly with her more serious turns as Officer Marvin and Mrs Douglas. Blake Kubena is excellent as Jack McMurdo, a newcomer to the Scowrers who wants to try and straighten them out, and plays well opposite Gavin Molloy as Bodymaster McGinty – a boss who’s willing to listen to new ideas when he thinks they’ll be profitable, but can’t quite give up on the more violent methods.

Luke Barton and Joseph Derrington returning as Holmes and Watson is a real boon for the production, as their interpretations of the characters are now established – allowing them to develop their performances whilst heading straight into a new case. Derrington is wonderful in Watson’s capacity as narrator (he is the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, after all), effortlessly switching from this role back into the scene at hand. Barton brings Holmes’ quick-thinking & sharp-witted nature to the fore, laser-focused on the case but increasingly aware that his partner may now have different priorities. The pair still come together as a fantastic double act, and you can’t help but hope that they’ll continue to bring these much-loved characters to life in more new adventures for years to come.

Sherlock Holmes, The Valley of Fear, Credit Alex Harvey Brown-09586 (1)
The Valley of Fear
Photo credit: Alex Harvey Brown

My verdict? A superb follow-up to Blackeyed Theatre’s previous Sherlock Holmes adventure – Barton & Derrington are excellent once again as the crime-fighting duo of Holmes & Watson.

Rating: 4*

Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear ran at Greenwich Theatre from 21-24 September 2022. Full details of the tour can be found on the official website.

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