Some 130 years after the character first appeared in print, you might think there is nothing new to be done with Sherlock Holmes – so many writers have produced books, films, TV shows and plays about the world’s most famous consulting detective, but somehow he continues to provide great material for reinvention.
His latest appearance is in Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain by Simon Reade, which opened at the New Theatre, Cardiff tonight (Monday 25th June) starring British acting royalty Robert Powell and Liza Goddard.
It’s 1922, and we find Holmes (Powell) in retirement on the Sussex coast – keeping bees, occasionally fly fishing, and although rheumatism prevents him playing his beloved violin, he still finds solace in tobacco and cocaine.
Older and slower, Holmes lives in fear that a former enemy may return to seek revenge, but when Mary Watson (Goddard) – wife of his long-time associate Dr John Watson – tracks him down to ask for help, he agrees to investigate a ghostly appearance in his former home at 221B Baker Street.
There follow reunions with Watson (brilliantly played by Timothy Kightley), now dabbling in new-fangled psycho-analysis, and brother Mycroft (also excellent, Ray Sampson), still with influence in the corridors of power.
And the two-hander scenes between Powell and these two are among the highlights of a production, which intriguingly places Holmes in a world where the technology of radio broadcasts, recording devices, and electric doorbells has left this mastermind behind. Or has it?
The idea of following Holmes in retirement isn’t new: the novel A Slight Trick of The Mind and the film version (with Ian McKellan), Mr Holmes, also saw an ageing Sherlock focusing on his bees, and there was a memorable steampunk adventure from five years ago, The Best Kept Secret.
The Final Curtain is slow to get going (everyone has dodgy knees, so it’s perhaps understandable), but once the action moves to Baker Street – a superb set, convincingly lived-in, smokey and dimly-lit – the play picks up the pace: now the game really is afoot.
We are treated to some clever ‘magic’ and a series of twists, as Holmes finally uncovers the truth behind the ghostly apparition.
It’s a treat to see such stage legends as Powell and Goddard together, and The Final Curtain provides an intriguing case to lure the ageing Holmes out of retirement.
Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain runs until Saturday 30th June and tickets are available from the box office on (029) 2087 8889 and online at newtheatrecardiff.co.uk
Review by Andrew Weltch