Sherlock Holmes (The Early Years)
nytheatre.com review by David Ledoux
September 24, 2007
You have a certain expectation when you are going to see a play called Sherlock Holmes (The Early Years). I figured the music would be earnest and take itself too seriously, and the comedy would be polite and good for one of those laughs you do in your head but it never seems to have enough ambition to make it out your mouth.
I was way off the mark.
This production of Sherlock Holmes takes all those clichés that we think of when we think of English mystery stories and makes fun of them mercilessly.
In this incarnation of Holmes we see a lonely man who decides he needs a flat mate. Dr. Watson is of course the person who answers the ad. From the beginning Holmes and Watson exhibit a strong affection for one another. Very strong. In a Christopher Street rather than a Baker Street kind of way. Once living together it's not long before there is a crime committed by a group of ambitious fledgling criminals, and Holmes and Watson are off to work. What follows is structurally on par with a typical Sherlock Holmes story: the crime, the investigation, a few complications, and then of course the meeting of all the characters to hear Sherlock tell us all the answers.
What this play seems to be doing is focusing on the moment-to-moment comedy more than anything else. I wasn't captivated by the story. I didn't find myself wondering what would happen next. I also wasn't all that interested in the character development. They all seemed to be one-dimensional jokes rather than people. What results is a spoof in a very campy style, which even borders in moments on cartoon. That's not to say though, that it isn't funny. It has some very funny moments, and some very funny actors. William Connell's Watson is wonderfully naive and bright-faced. Sarah Glendening is a strong Lucy, the head of the villainous "Spider." Gavin Lodge's Sherlock Holmes seems perfectly suited to this world—understated yet with a quality of confidence that has not quite matured into what we all associate with Holmes.
My one issue with the performances is a little nit-picky but I feel compelled to say something. Director Nona LLoyd has decided to give them all microphones for a very intimate space. What resulted was the audience hearing the levels being played with, crinkling and scuffing of the microphones, one moment early on a mask got caught in the microphone (which was actually very funny and handled wonderfully by the actors), and then Laura Shoop's microphone went out all together for the rest of the show. Her performance was very funny but unfortunately she had apparently become too accustomed to the microphone and she never released her voice into theatre. There's a very physical and visceral relationship to projecting your voice in a space. You feel the vibrations in your body and sense them on the walls. The text then becomes something not just existing in your mouth but in your whole body. I missed that real owning of the text, and found it a little difficult to hear even some of the microphoned actors.
That being said, for the most part this is a funny evening of theatre. There are some numbers that don't quite hit, such as "It's Time for the Denouement" (and it's been a while since my dramatic structure class in college, but I don't think that was the denouement), and there are certain jokes and numbers that go on a bit long. I would love to see a version of this, however, that paid more attention to the character development and plot, so that in the moments when there are no jokes we still feel compelled to find out what's going to happen next.