Holmes and Watson: The Games Afoot
Theater West End
Adapted by John Jory
Directed by Brance Cornelius
It’s hard not to like the Holmes and Watson duo. Holmes is so brilliant his dreadful social skills may be forgiven, and Watson’s loyalty so great he supports Holmes inflated self-image at the expense of any internal personal growth. Watson is the perfect “Igor” to Holmes brilliant madness. This student production takes four Holmes episodes and tacks them together with some very odd casting strategy: it’s all female, and the Holmes and Watsons shift roles in the middle of each episode. This is very confusing, , and I’m afraid I can’t give any cast member names, that information doesn’t seem part of the new electronic theater paradigm. But I’ll say these students tackle the material with enthusiasm and vigor and despite their Covid masks their dialog is clear and intelligible, even if I lost track of who is who at any given the moment.
The theme of blackmail begins the evening, our starter Holmes is a talk dark woman with thigh high riding boots and commanding presence on stage. Watson is a stout blond, built for physical comedy and the ability to get sly gags to work. They have a client burdened with damning evidence; they have the wherewith all to clear up the rap sheet. But in one of the most mysterious production decisions I’ve met, the pair tag out and allow a second string of Holmes’s and Watson’s to take over. It took me a few lines to catch on, but unlike an improv comedy tag out, this chance of cast didn’t speed things up, it made them … weird. The mysteries are all stock: a stolen bit of the crown jewels, The Most Bombastic Man in Victorian England, and a genuinely creepy attempted murder the cast kept rotating in and out. We end up with the Holmes and Watson we stated with, so at least everyone got a few good lines.
Holmes, as always, is inevitably correct and inevitably insufferable. You hope he messes up, just to be human. It needn’t be much, maybe he orders the wrong wine with the fish course, or he wrinkles his cravat, or misplaces a poison dart. Our Watson team is all over the map, sometimes omniscient, sometimes pathetic, but always loyal. The Victorina heavies and bounders are just that: emotionally ravaged, economically abusive, and as two faced as any politician, living or dead. The plot lines are clear enough, there’s never really any obscurity in Holmes’smotivation and he’s never too modest to “aw, shucks” every win, but he doesn’t even have a decent cocaine addiction. It’s a way out piece with some promising cast members, but if you are a Holmes purist, be warned!
Theater West End: theaterwestend.com