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Review: Sherlock Holmes – The Valley of Fear

It’s no wonder The Valley of Fear is so rarely staged. This final Sherlock Holmes novel presents many narrative challenges, and there are plenty of better known Holmes stories to choose.

But Blackeyed Theatre, the innovative Berkshire-based company, never shies away from a challenge. The company is known for presenting classics in new and exciting ways. And The Valley of Fear continues that tradition.

This production, which arrived at Cardiff’s New Theatre last night (Wednesday 24 May), is an absolute triumph.

It’s an intriguing story, cleverly told, perfectly paced, and with engaging characters.

Joseph Derrington as our narrator, Dr Watson, has to do some heavy lifting on the exposition, but it’s never unwelcome. And there’s more than enough drama and action (designed by Robert Myles) to compensate.

The story spans 20-odd years and two continents, and the incredibly versatile cast of five play more than 20 roles between them! In fact, there are two stories, running in parallel – and eventually coming together.

We begin in familiar territory: it’s London in the 1890s, Holmes (Luke Barton) and his colleague Dr John Watson (Derrington) are in 221B Baker Street, when housekeeper Mrs Hudson (Alice Osmanski) brings in a note.

It’s a coded message, which sets Holmes and Watson off to Sussex to investigate a violent murder. But not everything is as it seems. And how is this killing in rural England linked to gang crimes in the Pennsylvanian coal fields 20 years before?

It’s a brilliant adaptation by Nick Lane, and the set (designed by Victoria Spearing and built by Russell Pearn) is as versatile as the cast – taking us from London to Sussex to Pennsylvania, thanks to clever lighting by Oliver Welsh and sound and music by Tristan Parkes.

The convincing costumes by Naomi Gibbs play a vital role too – helping us distinguish characters when the actors are doubling up (which is often!).

Barton and Derrington are just about perfect as cool, calculating Holmes and dependable, put-upon Watson. The pair convincingly convey the complexity of their relationship, with mutual admiration and (although well hidden) deep affection between them, even though their toleration for the other is often stretched to breaking point.

Barton’s Holmes hints at underlying emotion too – summing up his reliance on Watson with words more applicable to lovers: “Without you, there is no me.”

The outstanding and hard-working cast is completed by Blake Kubena (who was so memorable in the title roles in the same company’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,) and Gavin Molloy.

Cardiff is the final stop on the play’s UK tour, which started in September last year, so you have only a few more chances to see it. And, if you can, please do!

The Valley of Fear plays at the New Theatre until Friday, with performances tonight (Thursday) and tomorrow (Friday) at 7.30pm, plus a 2.30pm matinee this afternoon (Thursday). You can get tickets from the box office on 0343 310 0041 or online here.

Review by Andy Weltch

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