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Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear | Southwark Playhouse

Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear is based on the novel of the same name by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Adapted for stage and directed by Nick Lane, the show is a fascinating play that is a must watch for fans of Sherlock Holmes. 

The show has two separate plot lines taking place, one with Sherlock Holmes (Bobby Bradley) and Dr John Watson (Joseph Derrington) trying to discover the truth behind John Douglas' (Blake Kubena) violent murder, and another with local criminal gang led by Bodymaster McGinty (Gavin Molloy). The two storylines do not intersect or run parallelisms to each other, beyond the increasing tension and questioning of character motives, and this leads to a slightly confusing watch. However given the original text, this isn't a flaw of the stage adaptation but rather of the story. The double storyline eventually comes together, resulting in a satisfying, unpredictable but ultimately intelligent link that elevates and explains the entire play. 

The latter plot whilst intriguing, is also rather complicated with one character too many involved, and little time to flesh these characters out. Jack McMurdo (Kubena) and the young Ettie Shafter (Alice Osmanski) develop a relationship which is fun to watch, yet gets lost in the constant changing dynamics and ideas. Added to these story lines are book-keeper Eldon Stanger (Derrington) and the hot headed Teddy Baldwin (Bradley). The premise is strong and with a slower pacing, could stand as its own piece of theatre. However, the sense of urgency, anxiety and greed are hammered into conversations and results in an engaging watch. 

The former plot is much more enjoyable, closely following Watson and Holmes as they solve the mysterious murder. With the famous penchant of the duo, Derrington and Bradley absolutely steal the show with their dynamic and portrayal of the famous fictional figures. It's an incredible sense of intimacy, as the audience hold a collective breath, not wanting to intrude in the workings of the detective. The air crackles with anticipation and excitement as the audience both try to solve the mystery before and alongside Sherlock.


The five actors deliver excellent performances. All five play a number of roles and slip into yet another hat (or coat) with ease. Osmanski portrays an array of characters, and brings heart, humour and warmth to each of them. Kubena as the McMurdo is a strong addition, providing the character with a multitude of motives and layers, whilst never sacrificing the charm that makes the audience root for him. Molloy does an incredible job as the unsettling Professor Moriarty, with equal parts of controlled madness and threatening sinisterism in a wonderfully controlled performance. Molloy also does a great job as the ruthless and ambitious McGinty. Derrington brings out the best in Watson with his nuanced performance. Managing to bring humour and frustration to his performance, he becomes the show's emotional heart, ramping up the slow burning pressure throughout to a beautiful and wholesome confrontation. 

However it is Bradley as the show's standout performer. Perfectly cast as Holmes himself, Bradley's small mannerisms (with fidgety fingers and cocked eyebrows), the theatricality of his flighty pacing, and flair for the dramatics in his detective work, all make for a perfect Holmes. The highest praise that can be bestowed upon Bradley is that it feels as though the character himself leapt from the pages and onto the stage. 

The play's impact, however, is limited by each actor playing multiple roles. Whilst their ability to multirole is commendable, particularly Kubena as the naive and eager Detective and the charmingly brave McMurdo, it ultimately prevents the audience to really engage and connect to the characters. Bradley does such an excellent job as the arrogant and genius Holmes, but it takes away from his performance when he doubles as the overly emotional and feeble Baldwin. The costumes remain mostly unchanged, often just swapping a coat or changing into another dress of the same style, which does nothing to help differentiate the characters. 

The set design (Victoria Spearing) is stunning, with older fabric wallpapers and wooden furniture on the Blackwall. Dr. John Watson's type writer, along with a stiff leather sofa adorn the inside of the famous 221B Baker Street address. However it's the use of lighting (Oliver Welsh) that creates a wooden paneling effect on the floor, transforming the space into the time period. The also frequent use of dim lighting and spotlights which add to the dramatic reveals, and helps the focus attention and draw the audience onto Sherlock. Moments like these feel intimate and it works well for the nature of the piece. 

The sound design and composed score (Tristan Parkes) are subtle but do immense good for the quick fire thoughts from Sherlock. Scene transitions occasionally have the cast singing and moving furniture to dramatic beats, which is a wonderful addition. Costume design (Naomi Gibbs) helps to define the character personalities, whilst also grounding the play in the time period. Action design (Robert Myles) creates some brilliant moments of confrontation between the characters, with a nice touch of slow motion aided by thrown sheets of paper, a fight is well choreographed, as is another tense trick with guns and coins. 

Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear is a remarkable stage adaptation, with strokes of brilliance throughout. Masterfully crafted and perfectly cast, the play is a true homage to the British detective we all know and love. 


AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Alex Harvey-Brown and Simon Vail


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