Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fourth and final Sherlock Holmes novel. This production by Blackeyed Theatre is a world premiere, written and directed by Nick Lane, currently touring the UK and there is also a streamed version available until 22nd January 2023. This review is of the streamed version.
Blackeyed Theatre was created in 2004 and I saw their 2016 version of Frankenstein which I thought was a masterpiece. They set the bar high with that one in my opinion!
I am not familiar with the story of “The Valley of Fear” so this was new to me. We see two stories running parallel to each other – one in “present day” (1895) and one told in flashback from twenty years earlier. This part is set in the Pennsylvanian Vermissa Valley. It is clear that they are linked but exactly how is not revealed until the final moments.
I did find it a little slow to get going. I also struggled to keep a grip of the plot at times as it can sometimes be quite challenging to follow Holmes’s line of logical thinking as his character is quick-witted, enthusiastic and relays his theories at a fast pace. Some of the plot development was too much, too quickly. Conversely, some of the dialogue was slightly tedious and didn’t seem to add a great deal to the plot. Nevertheless, the acting was of top quality and very enjoyable. The cast of five play multiple roles, delineating the characters very well.
I liked the friendship between Holmes (Luke Barton) and Watson (Joseph Derrington): it became clear that Holmes clearly values this as it was revealed that he had been keeping something from Watson for three years as a way of protecting him. His response to Watson’s anger about this is quite touching and not something usually demonstrated by the Holmes character.
Watson is the link with the audience as he is the narrator who provides necessary information in a story telling manner. He was immediately likeable. He didn’t have the bumbling element of Nigel Bruce (Dr Watson to Basil Rathbone’s Holmes), nor did he have the frustrated bitterness of Martin Freeman (Dr Watson to Benedict Cumberbatch’s “Sherlock”). He made the role his own.
There is a brief appearance from Moriarty (Gavin Molloy) who is extremely sinister but in an understated way. This scene between him and Holmes is also told in flashback and was lit very effectively with a starkness which gave the effect of isolating the two of them as if they were the only people in the room. It added to the unnerving air that Moriarty brought with him.
The linked past and present stories build the tension gradually (a little too gradually sometimes as I found some sections drawn out and overlong) and as they both reach a conclusion; we find out the relevance of the story being told in flashback.
The set was impressive and very traditional and stylish (as were the costumes). It remained the same throughout the play so the audience has to imagine the manor house with a moat at which Holmes and Watson’s presence has been requested to help solve a murder but this isn’t a problem.
Directorially, I also liked the way the characters conveyed the fact that they were on a train or in a carriage by all rocking together and lurching forward in unison when the journey stopped. Simple but very effective and well done. There is a fight scene or two, one starting in slow motion – skilfully presented.
I believe this production could benefit from being a little shorter than the two hours it runs for but there is no doubt that Blackeyed Theatre are to be congratulated on another success to add to their ever-growing list.
To download the streamed version, go to: https://blackeyedtheatre.ticketco.events/uk/en/e/sherlock_holmes_the_valley_of_fear
To book tickets for the UK tour, go to: https://blackeyedtheatre.co.uk/shows-2/shows/sherlock-holmes-the-valley-of-fear/#tab-80653
Reviewer: Nicky Lambert
Reviewed: 21st October 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★