Monday 21 October 2013

Theatre Review: The Singular Exploits of Sherlock Holmes, Don't Go Into the Cellar, London

The Secret Victorianist goes into the cellar

On Friday, thanks to the wonders of Twitter, and the proactive team at the Don't Go Into the Cellar theatre company, I, with slightly bemused companion in tow, found myself in the Tea House Theatre in Vauxhall - otherwise, for the night, 21b Baker Street - enjoying a whirlwind tour through the history of one of English literature's best-loved detectives. 

The Singular Exploits of Sherlock Holmes is a true labour of love, written and performed by Jonathan Goodwin, who has the distinction of being, not only a versatile actor, but a true Sherlockian, having joined the London Sherlock Holmes Society aged only 13 (only just pipped to the title of youngest ever member by Stephen Fry). What this means is that the whole production, while remaining fun and followable, has a fan-boyish feel. Book history, reception studies and literary criticism are all part of the course, but carried off with aplomb by Goodwin who seems to entirely inhabit the main character who is the life force of the production.

The main takeaway from the production for me was just how much of a one man show Arthur Conan Doyle's Holmes books (which first appeared in 1887) always are - not only when brought to life in a one actor play or featuring Benedict Cumberbatch. While Goodwin voiced multiple other characters briefly and convincingly it was definitely all about Sherlock. Watson could even be reduced to a silent coat stand without any substantial loss, and Holmes mockingly elucidated the thought patterns of his non-existent conversation partners succinctly, before dismissing them out of hand.

The production also inspired me to think about the art of storytelling and performance in intimate homely settings. The small audience in Vauxhall sat in armchairs surrounded by tea room bric-a-brac and Holmes’s possessions – fiddle, skull, trunk in which his embodied self is imagined to be trapped, falling into the English Channel, as his life flashes before his eyes (and ours). This is a play, but one which feeds on a tradition of dramatic recital and familial performance popular in the nineteenth century, and, as such, it was an interesting experience.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock on the BBC
The greater your interest in the Sherlock Holmes canon, the more you’ll get out of this production (which will be continuing its tour in Lichfield, Barnsley, Buxton and elsewhere) – it’s an overview, rather than a whodunit. But Goodwin is worth watching in himself, for his masterly handling of the audience, conversational air and captivatingly eccentric performance. There’s talent and some great ideas here, even if this isn’t your typical polished London theatre, and I’ d definitely go back into the cellar for more.

Have you seen Don't Go Into the Cellar's production? What did you think? And who is your favourite ever Sherlock Holmes? Let me know below, on Facebook or by tweeting @SVictorianist!

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