Review: Sherlock Holmes, The Final Curtain at Cheltenham’s Everyman Theatre

Sherlock Holmes, The Final Curtain

Sherlock Holmes, The Final Curtain - Credit: Archant

This new play, which features spiritualism, may well have theatres asking, “Is there anybody there?” Katie Jarvis worries

Sherlock Holmes, The Final Curtain (c) Nobby Clark Photographer

Sherlock Holmes, The Final Curtain (c) Nobby Clark Photographer - Credit: ©Nobby Clark Photographer

Interesting era, the Victorian.

For Victorians (I generalise), science was anathema and spiritualism was dope. Science, of course, put God in a two-horse race, with Evolution just nosing ahead. Or, to use a better analogy, Evolution made God appear like the mother at the school fete who’d bought a cake and tried to pass it off as homemade.

Spiritualism, on the other hand, was the QA test that religion passed. It not only proved there was an afterlife; it even had its phone number.

Enter Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: genius writer; genius thinker; genius inventor of genius thinker. When Sir Arthur pricked up his ears at strange knockings after dusk, ectoplasm pouring from mediums’ (media?) mouths, and even definitely-photographs-of-fairies-there’s-no-doubt-about-it, the sceptical Victorians (I did say I was generalising) raised their eyebrows so permanently high they became part of their hairline.

I’m on the fence on this scoffing at Sir Arthur.

On the one hand, it is odd that the creator of Sherlock – Debunker of Myths in Chief – should be taken in by trickery.

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On the other, I’m minded of the Richard Dawkins anecdote in The God Delusion, where, at a Cambridge dinner, an anthropologist reported the Fang people’s belief that witches have an extra internal organ that flies away at night. A theologian in the audience remarked, “You have to explain how people can believe such nonsense.”

In other words, one could argue that spirituality is simply belief with high speed broadband.

So, if you haven’t already left to clean the floor or mow the grass (be honest: neither really needs doing in this weather), on to the Everyman’s latest production, Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain. The premise is that a world-weary Holmes now makes those annoying clicking noises people with arthritis tend to make when crossing rooms. (Playing the violin and golf are now but distant memories.) Not only that, but his dated ability to distinguish 140 different types of tobacco – vital when identifying ash left by a rogue – has been superseded by a rush of extra brands with which to kill yourself.

When the body of a young woman is found on the private beach of the cottage where he is now living, memories of his arch enemy (wouldn’t you just love to have an arch-enemy! I merely have people who’d prefer not to invite me to dinner) flood back. Somehow, he feels, the dreaded Moriarty – who died alongside Sherlock (except he didn’t) at the Reichenbach Falls – has come back to haunt him.

Thus the cogs of the great mind begin to turn once again, only called into question by the detective’s decision to disguise himself as Sherlock Smith.

That sentence, in some ways, is at the hub of all this. Because what is this play? A comedy? A tragedy? A mystery? Beats me. Every time I thought it was resolving into one or the other, playwright Simon Reade seemed to change his mind. Like the conjuring up of spirits itself, you never really knew if you were going to get a wise doctor who died too early to fulfil his altruistic desires, or a Navajo Indian still fuming at the rubbish rifle he got in exchange for a perfectly good rug.

The good bits?

Well, it was heart-warming to see Robert Powell (as Sherlock) and Liza Goddard (as Watson’s estranged wife, Mary Don’t-call-me-Watson Watson).

“The particularly wonderful thing about Powell,” someone said to me, “is that you can hear every word he says.”

I agreed.

“Would you like to try a gin-and-tonic ice cream?” someone else said to me.

I agreed.

I had high hopes of the second half, buoyed by an ice cream that genuinely tasted like a G&T; but after a few promising twists, Simon Reade changed his mind again and decided not to be promising after all.

Look. If you want to see consummate actors and some very Victorian settings, this is for you. Otherwise, and I do feel bad saying this, my advice is to spend the night in a darkened room, in front of a table, asking, “Is anybody there?”

Sadly, that’s a question theatres may well be asking as the tour continues.

Sherlock Holmes, The Final Curtain: a new play by Simon Reade after Arthur Conan Doyle, will run until Saturday, July 21.

The Everyman Theatre is at Regent Street, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL50 1HQ, box office 01242 572573;