The Final Curtain is a real treat and a great evening in the theatre, combining one of our most celebrated fiction heroes – Sherlock Holmes -- with easily some of the greatest actors of our time, Liza Goddard and Robert Powell, who are superb in action.
With the dashing Powell, a veteran of epic film (Jesus no less in Zefirelli’s masterpiece) and television shows (he’s in his nth series of Holby City) any play is on to a sure-fire winner. Handsome witty inscrutable Powell’s older Holmes provides a charming cynical. Last night’s audience at the opening at the Cambridge Arts Theatre clearly thought so. They settled down for the frisson and fun of an evening of masterful acting in an intriguing script by Simon Reade, a new play ‘after Conan Doyle’.
The frame for the action was wonderfully inventive. It opens in 1922 and Dr. John Watson, played by a masterful Timothy Knightley, strides uncertainly into the studio of the newly launched British Broadcasting Company to make his first broadcast. The announcer has just finished a virtuoso performance of the weather forecast, as his plummy voice like an early Lawrence Olivier’s, rolls round the so-correct vowels of upper class London.
Dr. Watson is bemused. Why is the announcer in black tie? The answer comes from the producer a brilliantly bossy young woman exuding charm and flattery in equal doses: 'People at home can feel we’re in evening dress,’ she explains, with the bright confidence of a modern millennial. Watson is about to tell some tales of his legendary boss from yesteryear -- and so begins the murder mystery at the centre of the play.
Sherlock apparently has retired to the South coast of England. But old habits die hard and the next scene finds him back in his traditional investigative role, standing over a dead body on his private beach and maddeningly advising the police officer and his team about the cause of death. Lewis Collier plays Inspector Newman with style – and it has to be said his devastating good looks make him a face to remember. It’s not long before ‘Sherlock Smith’ a pseudonym (he fears revenge from some of the criminals he has unmasked in the past) is back in the saddle and streets ahead in identifying the body as a local woman he had recently met.
Soon Mary arrives. Who? Mary, superbly played by Liza Goddard, is Dr. Watson’s wife (recently featured in the Benedict Cumberbach – led modern revival of the famous sleuth’s adventures). Mary invites her husband’s old Partner back to Baker Street to help her solve the mystery of why her son James, killed in the First World War, has appeared to her in their old consulting rooms.
Tempted away from fly fishing and bee keeping, Sherlock returns to his old haunt and is greeted by Miss Hudson, the housekeeper’s daughter now taking on her mother’s role. Anna O’Grady makes a sparkling job of a determined 20s flapper with bob and short skirt and Holmes is soon ordering her about as in the old days. ‘The game is afoot,’ he cries joyously and retirement is a distant memory. One clue, the murdered woman is found on the day Moriarty plunged to his certain? Death at the famous Reifenbach Falls as he fought hand to hand with the detective hero (for those who know their Sherlock Holmes).
There’s even an amusing appearance of Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s super-intelligent elder brother. Mycroft has no thoughts of calling it a day on his cerebral machinations. In an amusing exchange in the park, he tells his brother he’s running the whole of the British government through his high level advisory agency. Roy Sampson goes a long way to make us believe this is entirely true and the myth of Mycroft’s magical mental powers goes on.
Needless to say, the mystery is solved by a Sherlock only steps ahead of his surprising hidden adversary. And the modern milieu makes good use of up to date technology of the 20s.The acting is superlative right across the board and it really is a delight to hear Robert Powell’s wonderfully distinctive voice live.
Kick back and be entertained in a production with some real surprises in store in a story which might lack tension at times but certainly never fails to be inventive.