Those familiar with the Sherlock Holmes stories or even the British television series will know the significance of Reichenbach Falls. It is at this location that the famous detective and his arch nemesis Professor James Moriarty fall to their deaths. Or did they? FYI this review is spoiler-free, so it can be read prior to seeing this show.
HOLMES & WATSON picks up some time after “The Final Problem,” in which Holmes & Moriarty meet their fates. Dr. Watson (Jeremy Webb) has arrived at a mysterious island where an old seaside manor is being used as a makeshift asylum. Dr. Evans (Bruce Warren) is the keeper of the facility with just three patients, all of whom are claiming to be the allegedly deceased detective. But as Dr. Evans points out, at least two of them are lying. Can Sherlock’s longtime partner and friend spot the real Holmes and eliminate the imposters? Through excellent performances, clever stagecraft and some fun twists and turns, we get our answer in just under ninety minutes. It was a smart decision to present this play in one act as to break up the action would be a disservice to the story.
The acting is top-notch from the entire cast, though Jeremy Webb (as Dr. Watson) and Bruce Warren (as Dr. Evans) deserve extra praise as they are rarely off stage and carry the bulk of the dialogue. Warren is most impressive considering he was a last-minute replacement, joining the cast mid-way through the rehearsal process and having to learn his part in a week. Had he not told us this story at the talkback after our performance, it is unlikely anyone would have known. The three “Holmes” actors are also spot on, with each bringing a familiarity to Sherlock while setting themselves apart just enough to keep you wondering which, if any of them, is the actual detective. Alley resident company member Chris Hutchison does a very impressive job of keeping his deaf/mute character perfectly still and in a “trance” while chaos and gunshots erupt around him.
The set is impressive, although I must admit that during this production I saw the first major technical issue I’ve ever encountered at the Alley. The back wall of the set uses projections to portray both Reichenbach Falls and the seaside outside the asylum. However, upon entering the theatre at our performance the projector was clearly showing a test pattern. During our performance, there was a spot where the projections went away completely, only to return a few minutes later. I suspect they were having issues with this system all night and finally rebooted it, hence the lack of a backdrop for those few moments. Nothing major on the whole, but so rare for this theatre to have a gaffe that it’s worth mentioning if nothing else for its trivial significance.
Beyond the glitch, the tech side of the production is well done. The set is a mixture of impressive and gloomy, with lighting and smoke effects used in key scenes to recreate the iconic waterfall and surround sound used to immerse the audience in the storm that is pummeling the island. The tendency of sound designers is to blow our ears out with the thunder and for the lighting designers to flash the lights in our eyes to emulate the lightning. This production does both, but aurally surrounding us with the storm allows the volume to be more subtle and using various lights scattered around the set (and even having lighting in the projected scenery) serves to make the illusion even more real. There is no need to blow us out of the theatre. This sounds more like a real storm going outside the theatre than a production attempting to reproduce such – and that’s to the credit of the entire design team. Special notice should also be given to David C. Woolard who has surpassed our expectations of how we would expect these characters to dress.
The story itself is a fun mystery with a very satisfying series of revelations towards the end. I suspect that if you are a Holmes fan you will find even more to love with this production, although a prior knowledge of the canon is not necessary. The play gives you enough of the history to follow the action.
HOLMES & WATSON is the first of two back-to-back mysteries being presented at The Alley Theatre this summer. Up next is THE MOUSETRAP, the world’s longest-running play and one of Agatha Christie’s best. I feel that the disclaimer used at the end of THE MOUSETRAP is also appropriate for HOLMES & WATSON:
“If you enjoyed the play, please tell your friends.” (Thus this positive blog post).
“And please do not reveal the secrets of the ending to anyone.”
Your secret is safe with me, Alley Theater.
****1/2 out of *****
“Holmes & Watson”
By Jeffrey Hatcher
Directed by Mark Shanahan
Now through July 22nd
Photo: Jay Sullivan as Holmes 1, Dan Domingues as Holmes 2, Chris Hutchison as Holmes 3 and the company of “Holmes & Watson” at the Alley Theatre