Andy Howells reviews Simon Reade’s stage adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes drama, The Final Curtain. The performance starring Robert Powell and Liza Goddard ran at Cardiff’s New Theatre on June 26, 2018.
Times are changing and it’s fair to say that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s super sleuth, Sherlock Holmes has moved with the times since first appearing in print in 1887 (in the story, A Study in Scarlet).
From the printed page, Holmes adventures have crossed to theatre, film and television. Most recently, there have been two successful modern-day television adaptations on both sides of the Atlantic starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller, while there have been two big screen nods to Holmes original 19th century escapades starring Robert Downey Jr. The stage has not been forgotten as Simon Reade’s latest adaptation of The Final Curtain, playing at Cardiff’s New Theatre this week, reveals.
The story finds Holmes, twenty years on from his original adventures, in retirement, casting his fly-fishing rod and pursuing bee-keeping, when the rheumatism allows.
Older, slower and with paranoia creeping in, Holmes fears he could be an easy target for his enemies. When Mary, the wife of Holmes’ loyal friend and colleague, Dr John Watson tracks him down to inform him she has seen her long-dead son through the window of 221B Baker Street, apparently alive and well, the super-sleuth is determined to solve the mystery as well as confront his own demons.
The Final Curtain is an interesting and necessary story to portray for the stage. Holmes is frequently portrayed as clever, witty, sharp and occasionally one dimensional. Here we find him very real, struggling with a threat greater than the late Professor Moriarty – time itself!
Robert Powell, is fabulous as an older Holmes, struggling with old age, monotony, boredom and restlessness, but still thriving wherever possible in demonstrating his unique powers of deduction. Unlike many classic portrayals of Holmes, the traditional deer-stalker and pipe are dispensed with. Powell’s portrayal is completely character driven and focused. As the story unfolds, Powell’s portrayal of Holmes increases in sharpness and energy, while dropping in the occasional humorous and frequently cutting observation, much to the audience delight.
Liza Goddard portrays Mary Watson as a strong-willed female, still grieving the death of her son whilst keeping her husband at arm’s length. There is much to Mary’s character as the plot twists and turns which ultimately sees Miss Goddard deliver a powerful monologue at the plays climax. A strong piece of theatre that is worth the price of the ticket alone.
Lending support is Timothy Kightley as Holmes’ bumbling colleague Dr John Watson. “You’re one fixed point in a changing age” observes Holmes as he surveys Watson’s interest in recording equipment in the Baker Street premises. Indeed, it’s the incoming age of early sound recording and radio that gives The Final Curtain its back bone as Watson also narrates the story as part of an early radio broadcast to the audience. Kightley’s portrayal of Watson is lovable whilst remaining an identifiable and sympathetic life link that pulls the audience in to the ongoing action.
Roy Sampson is Sherlock’s older brother, Mycroft and shares some wonderful moments on stage with Powell’s Holmes, From brotherly revelations in Hyde Park to a séance in Baker Street, Sampson carries forward Mycroft’s superiority and lack of respect for Sherlock’s ongoing investigations. “Is there anybody there?” he jests as the séance begins. Powell’s unspoken glare in response gives the play one of its most humorous moments,
Anna O Grady shines as Baker Street housekeeper, Miss Hudson (the daughter of Holmes former house-keeper Mrs. Hudson). Miss O’ Grady’s portrayal of the “modern” housekeeper is endearing, particularly as she finds herself at the sharp edge of Sherlock’s tongue when events take a turn for the worse.
There are further impressive aspects of The Final Curtain beyond its strong cast line-up. The scenes are linked by “a curtain” swishing across the stage, so there’s a quick change over from the scenes of radio studio, a Devon beach and Sherlock’s retirement home, Hyde Park and Baker Street
The sets capture the era and décor of the Victorian era perfectly, particularly the Baker Street residence which looks like it has come to life from Conan-Doyle’s books complete with open fireplace, wooden floor, rugged carpets, a chaise longue and a collection of old books and pictures.
Over 130 years have passed since Sherlock Holmes first enthralled audiences, and although he may be fighting the onslaught of changing times in The Final Curtain this production still finds him victorious in entertaining us.
The Final Curtain is both a must-see for Sherlock Holmes fans and a treat for anyone who has admired the work of Robert Powell and Liza Goddard on stage and television over the years.
- This review was archived in June 2018.