First rate theatre

Sherlock Holmes and the Ripper Murders
Sherlock Holmes and the Ripper Murders

Sherlock Holmes and the Ripper Murders - review by Kevin Anderson

Murder mysteries are often harmless fun, with a comic edge. But Sherlock Holmes and the Ripper Murders, at the Devonshire Park this week (June 30-July 4) is pure heart-pounding drama.

What a wonderful and poignant story lies behind this new production. The writer, the celebrated Brian Clemens, died in January, and with family blessing it goes ahead in tribute to him. Brian’s son Sam Clemens takes the title role, and his other son George proves a masterful technical director. Several family members were in the audience for Tuesday’s opening night.

Resourceful, canny director Patric Kearns – the man behind the current season – has raised the Talking Scarlet game here with really high production values.

The opening music rises to an ominous crescendo as the house lights dim to a gas-lamp flicker, and we are drawn into a smoky Victorian London with footsteps in the fog. Back projections and terrific sound and lighting cues create an almost filmic feel.

There is substance as well as style. A full cast of eleven brings the story to life with convincing characterisations. Neil Roberts, Andrew Paul and Greg Fitch are pillars of an Establishment shaken by dark deeds. Lara Lemon excels as the detective’s improbable mystic advisor.

Kim Taylforth is an endearing Mrs Hudson, and there is good ensemble support from Katy Dean, Matthew Zilch and Ewan Goddard. Oh yes, and Michael Kirk, whose Netley has the moody, sinister manner of a killer – or is he…?

But Holmes and Watson hold centre stage. The Cumberbatch Effect has liberated actors from that wretched deerstalker cliche, and given them licence to create their own Holmes. Sam Clemens is brilliant: not simply an incisive mind but a torch-bearer for justice, and the audience treats him like a matinee idol.

George Telfer’s Watson is not the well-meaning bumbler sometimes portrayed, but an intelligent and assertive partner for Holmes. Fine actors so often work in pairs.

Flaws? Not many. The pace might be brisker in the first half, and off-stage sound effects are a bit boomy. But those are quibbles: this is absolutely first-rate theatre.