Smoothly Gripping: ‘Sherlock Holmes: The Valley Of Fear’ Review

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Image credit: Alex Harvey-Brown

★★★★

Produced by Blackeyed Theatre in association with South Hill Park, Sherlock Holmes: The Valley Of Fear is an adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s final full-length Sherlock Holmes novel. The story follows Holmes and his partner Doctor John Watson as they investigate the murder of John Douglas at his country house, surrounded by a moat and only accessible via drawbridge. As the pair investigate, they are drawn into Douglas’ past, and may be playing into the hands of a man far more dangerous than the killer.

This is a deeply enjoyable and gripping production. Bobby Bradley and Joseph Derrington make the perfect Holmes and Watson, respectively. However well-crafted Doyle’s mysteries are, the most appealing thing about the play is that it understands the bond between the pair and uses it to further enrich the source texts. Moments where the extent of their regard for one another is shown are few and far between, but this makes it all the more cathartic to watch when they share moments of sincerity. While Bradley makes the perfect Holmes – clearly a genius, but an eccentric one, who swings between being flighty and still – Joseph Derrington particularly shines as Watson. As Watson is the one who must narrate the tale to the audience just as he has written it down for The Strand and thus convey the bulk of the plot to us, Derrington’s engaging and wry portrayal is vital. 

Also key to the play’s success is its script. In Doyle’s Valley Of Fear there is a lengthy piece of exposition, set in a time and place separate from the main mystery, which if delivered as one chunk in Act Two would have struggled to keep the audience engaged. Instead the choice is made to show this backstory as flashbacks interspersed throughout both acts, and thus we have two compelling storylines to follow at once. This is a play that does not let its viewers be bored.

Thanks to action designer Robert Myles, the show’s fight scenes keep you on tenterhooks. At once smoothly choreographed and realistic, both sparring and shootouts are great fun to follow. Also to be commended is the set, designed by Victoria Spearing. Warm and intriguing to the eye and yet period-accurate with its William Morris wallpaper, the set almost resembles wooden scaffolding at the edges. The room is transformed into that of another time and place simply by moving some chairs and adding a windowframe. The show does more with less – one can picture every new scene with only minimal changes onstage. 

Overall, The Valley Of Fear is an excellent classic portrayal of Sherlock Holmes which will leave you wanting another instalment right away.

The show can be seen at Southwark Playhouse from 27 March to 13 April.

Words by Casey Langton


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