Tonight we were very kindly invited to Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds to review ‘Sherlock Holmes – A Sign of Four’. This world-premiere production was put together by Blackeyed Theatre in association with New Theatre Royal Portsmouth and South Hill Park; Blackeyed Theatre are a touring theatre group who aim to make theatre more accessible and do a huge amount of work with schools. After having a thorough read of their website, I was very excited to see their initiatives in action.
We were in J1 and J2 and our view was really clear. I can now confirm that even if you’re at the end of a row, you can still see the entire stage. One thing about this show is that a lot of the action took place on stage right, so it was good to be able to see it all. The set by Victoria Spearing (see below) was, much like many aspects of this show, intricate and well thought out, seeming to take inspiration from both India and Industrial England.
The show was adapted by Nick Lane (who also directed the show) from the Arthur Conan Doyle novella of the same name, and is a world-premiere production. The show followed the eponymous Dr Sherlock Holmes (Luke Barton) as – alongside his partner in crime, John Watson (Joseph Derrington) – he attempts to solve a baffling murder. It was full of drama and romance, and sprinkled with a generous serving of mystery.
Since I was twelve, the Sherlock Holmes series has always had a special place in my literary-loving heart, so I have to admit that I was a tad apprehensive as to how it would work when placed on the stage. However, I was such a fan of Nick Lane’s book, which stayed true to the source material, but was adapted in such a way that it just worked. Both my Dad and I left the theatre saying how happy we’d be to go and see another Sherlock Holmes play if it was like this one.
While there are no songs (bar a lullaby performed by Stephanie Rutherford), the cast took to the stage armed with instruments and provide the music throughout, both off and on stage. The score (composed by Tristan Parkes) was mysterious and, again, took influence from Indian music while keeping with the ominous, murder-mystery soundtrack style of music (you’ll know what I mean) we’re so familiar with.
Small casts (six, in this case) can either be brilliant or disappointing, especially when it comes to multi-rolling, but this cast did not disappoint. The aforementioned Luke Barton (Sherlock Holmes) and Joseph Derrington (Dr John Watson) put their own spins on the classic characters, yet gave such a convincing performance that anyone – regardless of the medium they know the characters through – would be able to pin them.
Stephanie Ruthorford took to the stage with grace to play the female roles, including the famous Mrs Hudson and Mary Morstan, and did a brilliant job performing such juxtaposing characters. Also multi-rolling were Christopher Glover, Ru Hamilton and Zach Lee who, between them, played many characters without any hesitation, switching between prize-fighters, war generals, rich murder suspects and life-saving friends.
And remember: ‘when you’ve eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth’, and the truth here is that this show was absolutely brilliant. As far as world premieres go, this is one to watch as it has potential to become a huge show.
The Sherlock Holmes stories have so much potential and to see this one brought to life in a brand-new medium was such an uplifting experience. It requires a fair amount of concentration, but this production was cohesive, well constructed and amazingly performed.
‘Sherlock Holmes – The Sign of Four’ is playing at Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds until 6th October 2018 and you can get your tickets here – but hurry as they’re almost all sold out!