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Review: Sherlock Holmes and The Valley of Fear

Having recently read Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes mystery, The Sign of Four, I was keen to see this theatrical version of Sherlock Holmes and The Valley of Fear. The Grand wasn’t the fullest I’ve seen on the first of this four-night run (until 5th Nov), but there were enough people for a good atmosphere and not such a long queue for the essential interval ice cream.

This was a highly professional production with five fine actors covering a multitude of roles. It took little suspension of reality for Holmes to become a psychotic American gangster. The narrative, delivered mainly by Dr John Watson, switched between England and America, as the plot built to the inevitable reveal (which my wife had anticipated by the interval, but no spoiler).

The action kicks off in 221b Baker Street, with touching interplay between the intellectual but scatty Holmes, the more there than she likes to reveal Mrs Hudson and the writerly and clearly war disabled Watson (The Sign of Four reveals that Watson was wounded in Afghanistan). A cypher arrives from a Holmes informant and sets the scene. Holmes and Watson repair to a somewhat cliched English manor house, to find a mutilated body and a set of people behaving somewhat oddly.

In the classic Conan Doyle style, Holmes begins to piece together what must have happened. The American make of the murder weapon makes that link as does the victim’s best friend and discoverer. Much time is spent wondering what has happened to a dumb bell, although the answer was fairy obvious to me.

All good and all so cosy, until Holmes realises that his nemesis Professor Moriarty is in play. His recount of meeting his arch-nemesis causes friction with Watson, a rather touching break in the relationship so frequently depicted as one of master and acolyte, making the point that Watson is a strong man in his own right. After this it all becomes somewhat more sinister.

In America a criminal gang, structured similarly it seems to a masonic lodge, is broken, creating the paradox that the hero of this event must flee. Via an alias, we realise who the victim must be. But why has a bicycle made a one way trip? The dumb bell is recovered. The body count rises.

We are treated to a touching reveal scene, although the joy is only temporary. It seems Moriarty must win, at any cost. The plot links finally all fall into place. Unlike a Poirot, the cast didn’t have to gather in the library.

This was a very enjoyable couple of hours; a play that ran along straight lines, a good whodunnit and none the worse for that. Sometimes that’s what you want. The actors were fine, their technique fabulous; maybe the nature of the material and the age the play’s set in made the delivery a little mannered.

Some simple furniture created most of the scenery and that was very well done, even the firearms looking right and being well handled. The backdrop allowed the cast to make their entrances, but it was a complicated thing that to me made little sense; perhaps it was left over from an earlier production.

This excellent rendition of a well-structured Conan-Doyle Sherlock Holmes mystery is well worth your investment. See https://www.blackpoolgrand.co.uk/event/sherlock-holmes for tickets.

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  • I have worked in the housing and transport professions for several local authorities, specialising in policy, strategy preparation and bid writing. Having always had an interest in film, the visual arts in general, theatre, music and lterature, I thought it would be good to combine the writing experience with these interests to contribute to altBlackpool. In addition to writing, my hobbies include watercolour and pastel painting, photography, woodwork, cycling and vegetable gardening.

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