Posts tagged ‘theatre’

May 27, 2013

‘Sherlock Holmes: The Best Kept Secret’ at West Yorkshire Playhouse.

On Thursday, I had the great pleasure of a night at the West Yorkshire Playhouse for a performance of ‘The Best Kept Secret’, a new Sherlock Holmes play written by Mark Catley.

It was only when I started writing this review that I realised that, on the quiet, I’m a bit of a Sherlock Holmes fan. I haven’t really considered it before, but I’ve watched both of the new Robert Downey Jnr. film adaptations, the BBC series’ ‘Sherlock’ and even ‘Elementary’ with Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Lui. I’ve enjoyed them all, with special reference to Benedict Cumberbatch, for reasons I won’t elaborate on here! And, of course, before all of these and previous TV incarnations, there are the books, which I’ve read and enjoyed too.

So, it probably comes as no surprise to hear that I loved this play. Really loved it. Sometimes, I go to the theatre, opera, ballet, gallery, to be challenged. To come away with questions, and to feel as though I’ve learned something at the end of it, or at the very least to have tried!

But other times, I just want to be whisked away from my everyday life and be entertained. To laugh, engage with a story, and be surprised that hours have passed and it’s the end of the show already. In a nutshell, that’s what this play did.

Warning: The rest of the post contains spoilers!

Setting the play in the Victorian period, rather than updating to contemporary London, gave the brilliantly rotating sets a wonderful, slightly sinister, Steam-punkish quality, enhanced by ever-present swirling smoke. Without wanting to give too much away, the play is set in the period after the events at Reichenbach Falls, which Holmes fans will know as the final showdown between Holmes and his nemesis Moriarty. The opening scenes (after a  brilliant first moment in which a rowing boat moves through the darkness) see a retired and broken Sherlock selling stories of his cases to pay the rent.  Once Holmes’ brother Mycroft is falsely imprisoned for treason, it is down to Holmes, the ever-faithful Dr Watson and ‘The Woman’ Irene Adler, to clear his name before he is hanged. Complicating matters are Andrew Langtree as the low-level journalist seeking more sensational stories and, of course, Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard, played with a dry wit by Victor McGuire.

Sherlock Holmes (Jason Durr) Photo: Manuel Harlan.

Sherlock Holmes (Jason Durr)
Photo: Manuel Harlan.

I really enjoyed the whole cast, although I have to say that for me, Kerry Peers as the poverty-stricken Mrs Peasgoode was a fabulous scene-stealer even from beyond the grave during a splendidly surreal moment in which Holmes is suffering under the effects of his opiate addition.

Jason Durr is a wonderful Sherlock, struggling with his afflictions, being painfully aware of his shortcomings – at one point asking for lessons in smalltalk –  and ultimately triumphing over a foe who seems to know his every move. Adrian Lukas plays his brother Mycroft  as an even more socially inept character, despite, or more likely because of, his genius and it is left to us to realise the way in which Sherlock’s relationship with Dr Watson (excellently played by Andrew Hall) has humanised him and made him more able to cope in the world, despite everything.

I read an interview with the play’s writer, Mark Catley, and he’s a big fan of Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy, amongst other wonderful shows) and I see real similarities in their style evident in this play. The fusion of pithy one liners with action, the feeling of being ‘an insider’ with the jokes, and the occasionally uncomfortable combination of the funny with the macabre gave me a feeling that this play didn’t take itself too seriously; perhaps summed up with the line “no shit, Sherlock” being used to great effect by Tanya Franks as Irene Adler. I loved that, despite the obvious comedic elements, there was a huge amount of attention to detail, from the deerstalker and pipe to the 221B painted on the outside of the front door. This may be a brand-new Sherlock Holmes story but it’s one that devoted Holmes fans will appreciate, I’m sure, for these little touches as well as for the story that kept me in its thrall the entire time.

The audience reacted incredibly warmly to the performance, there was much affection for it at the end, and everyone I was with commented that they’d had lots of fun.  The play is on at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until 8th June and then begins a tour before moving to the West End. If you’re looking for an evening of pure entertainment and a wonderful new story based on well-loved characters, then this is it.

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March 15, 2013

Doctor Faustus at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

Last week, my friend and occasional ‘cultural conversation’ partner Jo and I were lucky enough to be invited to a performance of Doctor Faustus at the West Yorkshire Playhouse through our friends at The Culture Vulture and we’ve been meaning to write our review ever since. Unfortunately, events conspired against us so far, but, finally, here it is. And just in time for you to catch it before it closes this weekend! We talked in the interval, and since, about the impact the play had on us, and the questions it raises about decisions, faith, morality, and – perhaps most importantly – how amazing Mephistopheles’ final costume was. I’ve reproduced some of our conversation below, with huge thanks to Jo for her fabulous contributions and apologies in advance if I accidentally shift from ‘we’ to ‘I’ continually throughout this piece …

If you’re the sort of person who likes your Marlowe and Shakespeare served traditionally, Colin Teevan’s Doctor Faustus probably won’t be your cup of tea. Personally, I’m happy for myths and legends to be re-imagined in a modern context—it replaces the natural evolution of stories that happens in oral traditions—and as the Faustus tale explores such a juicy question—what it means to lose one’s soul—it’s ripe for adaptation across centuries and continents. Luckily for both of us, we really enjoyed this version, and admire the boldness of both Colin Teevan for adapting such a well-known and loved piece of work and the Playhouse and Citizens Theatre, Glasgow for producing it.

From the Playhouse trailer,  we were expecting something much darker than the lurid show we saw.

The sense of menace came in the form of Mephistopheles (Siobhan Redmond) who, we both agreed, stole the show. Jo said that she wouldn’t have been at all surprised to see her floating rather than walking across the stage; she oozed otherworldliness. Mephistopheles’ excellent performance was closely followed by Alasdair Hankinson’s back playing Marilyn Monroe. We’ve never seen someone act with their shoulder blades before and Hankinson has set the bar high!

Flanking the main stage space with a secondary set—rows of vanity mirrors, suggesting a theatre dressing room—was a clever touch, creating a blur between audience and actor and allowing us to be in on the jokes played on Faustus—we see a male devil gleefully don a wig, veil and wedding dress when Faustus asks Mephistopheles for a bride. This distinction was played with again, right at the end, when the edges of the theatre backdrop lifted to expose a part of the Playhouse backstage area, repositioning the audience emotionally from being outsiders looking in to complicit in the scene; a small act with a massive effect.

There were a few really nice details in the piece, from a brief moment at the opening of the play when the ‘off-stage’ characters all sit up in their chairs and lean, as one, towards the action, to an Elvis rendition of Robbie Williams’ ‘Angels’ in a Las Vegas scene.

Jo did have rather a WTF moment about a rabbit. In a scene of debauchery, one of the participants appears in a bunny head. Apparently, nightmarish equals giant rabbit. Cue her version of Tito’s rant about dwarves in dream sequences (Living in Oblivion). There. She’s said her piece. I’m sure she feels better now …

The language in the contemporary parts sometimes felt a bit too obvious, and as a result,  sometimes it felt as though Mephistopheles lost a little of the otherworldliness introduced and performed with such brilliance in the first acts. We perhaps didn’t need to have such blatant examples of evil in order to believe… Having said that, we did enjoy the contemporary acts of the play, and the contrast between them and the original Marlowe text; they were bold, quite fun and introduced a bit more of the conflict in Faustus’ mind.

Whenever Faustus begins to examine the wisdom and morality behind his choices he is told to ‘think on the devil’ and a distraction is created to divert him. Similarly, the heavyweight ideas in the fabric of the play disappear once the show is done, leaving behind a sense of having been thoroughly entertained.

Doctor Faustus closes this weekend, but if you get the chance, do go along to see it. We’d love to hear your views …