With the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle out of copyright, the approval of the estate of the esteemed Edinburgh born author is no longer required in order to adapt his works or characters for the stage, or indeed to create a wholly new show inspired by those works, and with the modernised casebook of Sherlock Holmes in vogue on both sides of the Atlantic through the ongoing televised adventures of Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller the Edinburgh Fringe will always attract a host of productions.
Released in 1988, the film Without A Clue is very much within copyright; directed by Night of the Comet‘s Thom Eberhardt from a script by Larry Strawther and Gary Murphy, it starred Ben Kingsley as Doctor John Watson, a cunning amateur detective and writer whose stories published in Strand Magazine fictionalised his own adventures through the character he invented, Sherlock Holmes; unable to be taken seriously he engaged out of work actor Michael Caine to play the detective until he is forced to fire him when he bungles a case at the British Museum.
Described as “an original, student-written musical that looks at Conan Doyle’s classic stories from an entirely new angle,” the presence of a master detective is not required to deduce the parallels between Without a Clue and Holmes for Rent, presented by Music Theatre Warwick and running for the full month of August at C on Chambers Street.
That a work is strongly derived from secondary source material is not necessarily an obstacle if it is professionally presented and sufficiently engaging, and certainly the surprisingly rugged and handsome Watson who first introduces the proposition is an encouraging sign; regrettably, the “third rate drunk actor” who inherits the crucial role of Holmes is diminutive, rodent faced and possesses none of the requisite stage presence.
With Sherlock’s voice too weak to be heard over the more talented chorus, the slimy Moriarty is unbearable with his tuneless voice and poor diction and while Watson is the better singer by far his self-pitying lament of his situation is a chore to listen to; the henchwomen Mackie, Jackie and Becky are possibly the only natural talents in the show yet the shrill harmonies reduces their Chicago pastiche to a jailhouse cats’ chorus and elsewhere melodies are lifted directly from The Nightmare Before Christmas.
With ham acting and low humour in place of an actual plot or likeable characters and a squealing police sidekick whose sole purpose is to gurn and telegraph pratfalls, the prancing about stage and high kicks become tiresome within minutes and there is a feeling that more time was spent choreographing the show than directing the actors.
At most a show for undemanding children with a caution for unnecessary language and innuendo, the strongest emotion is the hope that, with the promise of a different villain each performance, that this will be the day when Mrs Hudson uses one of her knitting needles to stab Holmes, but having started there the temptation would be to continue through the rest of the cast on stage at that point.