“it’s been brilliant, this is the third time that I’ve played Sherlock Holmes,” actor Luke Barton tells Andy Howells, as he prepares for the final week of Blackeyed Theatre’s UK tour of The Valley of Fear, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s last Sherlock Holmes novel.
Luke continues, “I played Sherlock for the first time when I was with Blackeyed theatre back in 2018 for The Sign of Four. Then, over lockdown I did The Hound of the Baskervilles for a theatre company in London.”
Now Luke, who has toured in Blackeyed Theatre’s stage adaptation of The Valley of Fear for the last 8 months concludes his current run as the master detective at Cardiff’s New Theatre this week. Adapted by Nick Lane, with original music composed by Tristan Parkes, The Valley of Fear is a rare opportunity to see the final classic Sherlock Holmes tale on stage.
Luke explains “When we performed The Sign of Four, we realised there was an appetite for Holmes, especially for other stories. The Valley of Fear is interesting. It’s quite dark, we’re in the realm of gangsters and organised crime. The story is very international, it sweeps over to America. There’s real threat and violence in this story which we’ve tried to explore as well.”
Luke, who counts New Wolsey/Nuffield Theatres UK Tour of One Man, Two Guvnors and Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse Misterman among his stage work has also played several Shakespearian roles on tour in Twelfth Night, Romeo & Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Henry V. However, it’s Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic detective that has given him the most enjoyment.
“He’s tricky,” admits Luke, “He’s described as a machine, an automaton, a physiological mind, he’s so quintessentially Victorian, yet so unvictorian in his manner and behaviour sometimes.
“Every time I’ve played Holmes I’ve just gone back to the literature. This time I really went through the story. What is the image of this man that leaps out of the pages? What is it that stands out? I looked at what other actors have tried to bring out from Jeremy Brett’s flamboyancy and Jonny Lee Miller’s addict, then Benedict Cumberbatch brought out the slightly autistic nature of him, while Robert Downey Jr played Holmes the action hero.
“I thought about what aspect of Holmes I wanted to bring out and I think in The Valley of Fear it’s about Holmes, the thinking machine, put under pressure. We ordinarily think he is quite logical and unemotional, but what happens if you throw in a nemesis? Someone he can get personally invested in and what happens if his friendship with Dr Watson is put under strain? Does he feel stress, worry and anxiety?”
For The Valley of Fear, Luke is joined once again by Joseph Derrington who also played Dr Watson opposite his Holmes in the stage tour of The Sign of Four. Luke believes that the Holmes and Watson friendship is key to Sherlock Holmes longevity. “They are extreme opposites and shouldn’t be friends really, but they formed this fantastic complementary friendship,” he says.
Beyond this week, Sherlock Holmes fans can watch Luke on Blackeyed Theatre’s website as a paid stream of The Valley of Fear, but will Luke be tempted to return to the role on stage for a fourth time?
“Never say never,” Luke replies, “a role like Sherlock Holmes is an absolute gift!”
- Sherlock Holmes – The Valley of Fear runs at Cardiff’s New Theatre from Wednesday May 24 – 26. For ticket availability visit The New Theatre website.