Originally performed at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2009, the inaugural show of the theatre company which bears the same name returned in 2013 on a wave of renewed Sherlockian interest thanks to the two prominent television shows which have brought that most famous detective to yet another generation of eager fans. Written and directed by Robin Johnson, mastermind behind the intermediate shows Stitched Up and In A Handbag Darkly, respectively skewerings of the work of Shelley and Wilde, with all but one of the main cast reviving their roles, the intervening years have not dulled the sharp dialogue or lively performances.
In their Baker Street apartment, Doctor John Watson gives the outward appearance of calm focus, his emerald tie tucked inside his waistcoat as his more excitable companion pouts and struts and frets his fifty minutes upon the stage, clearly vexed as he recounts his latest exploit to his chronicler who confesses he is “uneasy about lying to his readership,” suggesting that a more honest title might be The Yorkshire Terrier of the Baskervilles and questioning whether said beast did indeed have steampowered legs.
Mr Sherlock Holmes is not to be swayed, convinced that the public love him, refusing to be reined in by a purveyor of “overwritten penny dreadfuls,” yet in the finest tradition of Conan Doyle, all is not as it first appears. For all Holmes’ insight, he has not deduced that Watson is unhappy, for the greatest living detective, who may or may not “spend half of his life zonked out of his tits on drugs,” has forgotten their anniversary. Again.
Resentfully drawn into the investigation of the murder of Lord Slateford, Watson takes the opportunity to vent his frustration at the lost opportunities of his life: playing second fiddle to Holmes, his abandoned career in medicine, the loss of his wife Mary.
It is Johnson’s meticulous research which raises the show above run of the mill parody, as Watson recounts his marriage in The Sign of Four, Mary’s continued presence in the background of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes but questions how by The Return of Sherlock Holmes he was once again living at Baker Street with but a single line to explain his change of circumstance. Sherlock is characteristically direct on the delicate subject of Mary: “She was a miserable cow.”
James Bober is a talented and fearless physical comedian who plays Holmes in a manner unlike any previous actor, and as the until now silently suffering Watson, Canavan Connolly matches that performance as he switches between documenter, doormat, carer and critic, caustically pointing out to Holmes the number of times the work “ejaculate” appears in the stories.
When circumstances require him impersonate the man himself, indisposed through a speedball of opium and heroin, Connolly shows himself to be capable not only of mastering Holmes but also rendering a decent Basil Fawlty.
With a London run of the show proposed for the near future, the Broken Holmes company are one to watch and to watch out for, and any return to Edinburgh with either a revival or a new literary victim to be dissected will always be welcome.