This review was originally written for The Public Reviews
One imagines that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, given the famously antagonistic regard in which he held his most famous creation, would have greatly enjoyed Charles Marowitz’s Sherlock’s Last Case, a comic parody in which the great detective’s personal flaws are thoroughly examined. Sadly, Suffolk Summer Theatre’s production, currently running at Aldeburgh’s Jubilee Hall, would almost certainly have failed to impress, suffering as it does from inappropriate understatement throughout, a lack of inter-character naturalism and an occasional tendency to self-indulge.
Clive Flint plays Watson to Harry Gostelow’s Holmes as the pair are confronted by two siblings, apparently the children of Sherlock’s defeated arch-enemy Moriarty. Warned by a woman claiming to be Moriarty’s daughter (Katy Federman) of her brother’s festering desire for revenge, Holmes and Watson decide to brave a confrontation with the hope of settling matters peacefully. The plot provides surprises as the true identity of the villain becomes clear and Sherlock realises that he is facing a wholly unexpected challenge.
For full enjoyment, such a parody demands a degree of exaggeration that is sorely missed. For the most part the understated performances, although commendable, are disappointingly ill-judged. As the plot develops and its revelations become more and more ridiculous, only Gostelow, with his insect-like walk and brilliantly laconic deliberations, is enjoyably over-the-top; he captures an air of arrogance and intellectual snobbery, yet also brings originality to such a well-worn role with his expressiveness and physical dynamism.
Flint is well-cast as the bumbling Doctor Watson, yet his lack of exuberance ill-fits the play’s more dramatic moments. Elsewhere, Alan J. Mirren is adeptly gruff yet uninspired as the hapless Inspector Lestrade and Jill Freud disappoints as landlady Mrs Hudson; her prolonged bouts of inexplicable prancing border on the irritatingly self-indulgent. Federman brings some much-needed zing as Liza Moriarty. In truth, however, the entire cast is guilty of failing to interact with each other. It feels as though the audience is watching a series of mediocre individual performances, rather than a cohesive ensemble.
For all the cast’s failings, however, there are memorable scenes and a few genuinely funny moments. A choreographed dance scene in which Holmes and Liza Moriarty fill the stage with flamboyant moves is fantastically executed, the thrust and parry of their movement reflecting that of their combative conversation.
It seems adolescent to criticise a parody for its plot, yet even the most absurd of satires must bear resemblance to its original. The classic stories of Conan Doyle are at their best when Holmes and Watson entertain the worries of a client in 221B, then resolve said mystery with ingenuity and cunning. Sherlock’s Last Case displays very little of this winning formula and this, coupled with the cast’s inappropriate understatement, means the sharp blade of parody is thoroughly dulled. That said, scrutiny under which Holmes’ character is placed does provide some entertaining revelations, not least that the detective’s unwavering arrogance could not fail to have an effect upon those closest to him.
Ultimately, this latest offering from Suffolk Summer Theatres thoroughly fails to impress. It is heavy in unsuitable understated acting and unpalatable self-indulgence and any appropriate exuberance is scarce. It imparts a feeling comparable to that experienced when reluctantly indulging the bland nattering of an elderly relative.