Sherlock Holmes – The Ten Minute Plays, now playing the late slot at The Kings Head in Islington (10pm Start) following a slightly earlier run at The Leicester Square Theatre, is an odd beast and no mistake.
For a start, the five ten minute plays being presented should presumably take fifty minutes, give or take a few minutes for scene changes.
Taking almost an hour and twenty minutes, John DeGaetano’s self-written, self-directed, and vanity published collection of five ‘ten minute plays’ would, therefore, seem to be presented here at somewhat less than full tilt.
That could account both for the curious sense that the ensemble aren’t altogether playing at the same pace, and also that just possibly, were the plays played up to speed, they would be rather more entertaining and off the wall than they ultimately prove.
Heading up the cast as Holmes himself, Simeon Oakes – a memorable Frederick in a modern dress Pirates of Penzance at The Tabard a couple of years ago – was the only actor who could truly said to have been playing flat out, which is a shame, as his youth and matinee idol good-looks don’t appear a natural fit to the role of the asexual Baker Street Detective.
That being said, he manoeuvres the tales – Sherlock Holmes and A Case of Revenge, Sherlock Holmes and The Dilemma, Sherlock Holmes and The Case of the Charming Three, Sherlock Holmes and The Failed Attempt, and Sherlock Holmes And The Light in The Woods – with a degree of restlessness that give a hint that just maybe he is the cocaine using super-sleuth.
His sidekick, the likeable Roger Parkins, plays Doctor Watson in the rather bumbling Nigel Bruce mould of best friend. Innocent, hapless, and always only too willing to stand back and bask in the warm glow of Holmes’ reflected glory. He too was in the same production of Pirates as Oakes, but as The Major General, a role to which, like this one, his physical presence seems ideally suited.
The only other actor not to have multiple roles between the five playlets on offer is Jeffrey Mayhew as Inspector Lestrade who would perhaps benefit from more hands-on direction.
The other two men, making five of the eight actors overall, Tom Moores and Josh Morrall, play four roles between them. Morrall in particular needs to be singled out for his portrayal of William Sickert, perhaps the most accomplished performance of the whole evening in a tale referencing the Ripper murders.
The three ladies making up the rest of the cast, Ceejay Sargent, Jodyanne Richardson, and Juliet Plew, again have six roles between them which could have been completely interchangeable, though I offer this observation not as a critique of them as actors, but of the quality of the writing which seems rarely to rise above the level of the mundane, and except in The Case of The Charming Three where they are given the most broad of treatments (one is nearly deaf, one nearly blind!) the sketchy characterisation falls to the level of cipher.
No one would expect in a ten minute play that depth of characterisation would be anything other than scant, however DeGaetano redefines the word, and not in a good way.
The largely friendly audience seemed to enjoy what was on offer, however, though I couldn’t help feeling a single, longer play exploring character, situation, and motive, and with a definable set of arcs through which the protagonists travelled would ultimately have proved more satisfying.
This is a set of playlets almost completely devoid of that uniquely theatrical ingredient, emotion, and as such it is, unfortunately, about as engaging as watching someone do Sudoku five times over.