Thursday 12 December 2019

12/12/19: Sherlock Holmes and the Strange Case of the Circassian Dagger, Dame Alice Owen’s School, Hertfordshire (first night)

There are few things I enjoy more than a school play.

This is an incredibly ambitious work, written and directed by Emma Govier. The plot is massively convoluted, with a large cast inhabiting the H-shaped stage and a great many scenes taking place across a wide array of locations to explore all the intertwined narrative strands. Sometimes the plot was difficult to follow, but it all came together in a satisfying way as time went by.

This was the first night and sometimes you could tell. Several children struggled to suppress laughter as they delivered their lines. One scene simply petered out and went quiet until one of the girls ad-libbed, brilliantly, by saying “I’m bored” – in character – before they all ran off the stage.

There’s so much here that’s entertaining. I liked the three comedy policemen – useless at deducing anything and prone to fainting or being sick whenever anything grisly happens. Some of the script is hilarious, such as when one of Moriaty’s henchmen reels off a whole mini-speech about his skin-care routine. There’s also a very funny approximation of leaping off a boat and swimming in the sea. And Max Hirschkorn is such a natural in the role of Mrs Hudson, Holmes’ fussy housekeeper, that it was a shock to learn afterwards that he was a stand-in for the intended actor.

Sherlock himself is suitably enigmatic, but also endearing – such as when he disguises himself by pretending to be a pot plant. He is shy with women, and his kiss – when it arrives – is so convincingly awkward that it makes you wonder whether the discomfort belongs to the character or the actor.

There are a few dancing interludes, which are especially charming. There’s a brief ballet scene relating to Anthony and Cleopatra, plus a wonderful gypsy dance.

So many of the children excelled themselves, but the fortune teller (Mia Dacosta) and Sherlock’s girlfriend and fellow investigator (Rachel Alden) were particularly convincing.

The show is way too long at 3 hours 20 minutes (including interval), but I expect it will be tightened up considerably over the next two performances. Either way, it’s a huge achievement.

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