By BRUCE DENNILL
Sherlock Holmes And The Curse Of The Queen’s Diamond / Directed by Alan Swerdlow / Studio Theatre, Pieter Torien’s Montecasino Theatre, Fourways, Johannesburg
Some folks may feel a tad Sherlock Holmesed out. Between Robert Downey Jr’s films, Benedict Cumberbatch’s TV series and Basil Rathbone’s still ubiquitous deerstalker-and-cape ensemble, it might be imagined that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s enduring detective character can surely only, at best, revisit old stomping gorunds for the benefit of new audiences.
However, as the youth of today might say: “This ain’t your granny’s Sherlock Holmes”. And it, er, ain’t.
Robert Fridjhon has written an epic mystery, shot through with daft gags. He and Alan Swerdlow have then marinated it in vaudeville, dipped it in farce and rendered it piquant with spicy physical comedy. Fridjhon, Bronwyn Gottwald and Craig Jackson play a handful of characters each – primarily Holmes, Mrs Hudson/Irene Adler and Dr Watson respectively – with various voiceovers standing in for Moriarty and others.
The tone of the piece is cleverly established up front by the obliteration of the fourth wall thanks to a plot mechanism that requires the characters to perform in a (nearly) impromptu play as part of their presentation of evidence in an important case to Her Majesty Queen Victoria. This excuses the intentional buffoonery – the confusion over who is currently playing which role; the inability to find a door when one is needed; the sharing of fake moustaches and more – and requires the actors to play directly to the audience for much of the production, with occasionally unpredictable, and hilarious, consequences.
The show lasts a little over two hours, and there’s hardly a moment in which to breathe, for either those on the stage or those off it. The complexity of the script keeps the audience guessing as to the fate of the diamond in the play’s title – the mystical Koh-i-Noor – even as they are amused by the rushing around, comic chemistry of the cast and prat-falling willy and, occasionally, nilly.
Jackson is superb, harried and sincere, wheezing as he darts between different characters and, as Watson, attempts to keep up with the myriad schemes of Holmes and Adler. Fridjhon is dubiously debonair and consistently funny as Holmes, while Gottwald, in a welcome return to the stage, is excellent as both the femme fatale and the wholesome housekeeper.
The frenetic pace means corpsing is a possibility, but the play-within-a-play idea means the actors can giggle and smirk their way through those moments without detracting from the plot.
Light-hearted but shrewedly constructed entertainment, this is a pleasingly original spin on a reliably engaging theme.