COMMENTARY: Sherlock Holmes and the West End Horror

Anthony and Marcia Milgrom Dodge’s Sherlock Holmes & the West End Horror bills itself as a loving pastiche of all things Sherlock. Its cast of characters features Holmes and Watson alongside an assortment of cultural figures from late-19th-century London, such as Gilbert & Sullivan, Bram Stoker, Oscar Wilde, and George Bernard Shaw.

What kind of sparks will fly as Holmes and Watson mingle alongside celebrated Shakespearean actress Ellen Terry, or engage in a duel of wits with Wilde? How will they respond when confronted by Holmes superfan H.G Wells?

The theme of history vs. fiction is a big one for this play.

“It’s a 21st-century play, based on 20th century characters, based on 19th century stories,” director Lauren Stiers wrote in her director’s note.

The play opens as Holmes (Andrew Kellie) and Watson (Eric Morin) are tasked by Shaw (Ethan Pitcher) to solve the murder of a London theatre critic. The case throws the trio into the world of West End theatre, where they uncover a tragic love triangle, a threat that could affect the city, and potentially juicy secrets in Watson’s diary.

The play struggled early on to find momentum. Performances felt flat, and the pacing was sluggish. The first half seemed to only hint towards what the play wanted to be, rather than committing towards chasing that vision. For example, a scene with Holmes and Wilde (Shannon Putnam) felt like a letdown; the banter between the two lacked the sharpness I would have liked to see.

Pitcher, however, shone as Shaw. He brought a strong sense of comic timing and energy to his performance and was captivating in his delivery. His character got most of the play’s comedic material, and he made each joke land well.

The second half of the play was much stronger. Kellie in particular found his footing as Holmes, bringing wit and conviction he lacked in the first half. The play became far more engaging, bringing lots of urgency to keep the story clipping along.

Kellie was at his best closer to the end, as he pieced together the final bits of the case. He showed none of the hesitancy I saw in the first half as the play approached its climax, firing off deductions without a trace of tentativeness.

Scene-stealers included Molly McGuire and Matthew Okum as Ellen Terry and Henry Irving respectively, especially as Irving tried explaining to a bewildered Arthur Sullivan what a dagger sounded like.

Fans of Sherlock Holmes should find plenty to like here. The play features plenty of in-jokes and allusions to the Sherlock universe, such as Kellie’s growing exasperation for the phrase “Is the game afoot?”  As well, several Sherlock supporting characters such as Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson, and Inspector Hopkins all make appearances.

My biggest takeaway? The play taught me the occupational hazards of theatre criticism, and it might be worth thinking twice before reviewing plays in the West End.

– Photo is provided.