Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear

Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear
Reviewer's Rating

A letter arrives at the familiar 221b Baker Street interior where Holmes and Watson are carrying on their banter.  It is a cipher, a list of numbers which the great detective swiftly ascertains is a clue to a crime.  In no time, a Scotland Yard man knock on the door to ask Holmes to assist him in the investigation of, yes, exactly that crime.

This is well-known territory, one of many dramas culled from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s vast canon.  This production, however, then swerves off into Pennsylvania twenty years earlier.

We see a rather conventional set-up for a western, familiar from many films and TV series: a stranger comes to a new town and quickly makes himself indispensable to the local gangsters.  In this case the gangsters are the Scowrers, a secret society that Conan Doyle based on the violent Irish trade union organisation the Molly Maguires.  The stranger is in fact a detective infiltrating the Scowrers to gain evidence to bring them to trial.

This production alternates between these scenes from the Pennsylvania coalfields and Holmes and Watson in a country house in rural England.  The connection between the two is less than apparent for almost the entire play and the western scenes are less well realised and engaging than the English ones.

The link between the two is supposedly Professor Moriarty, the Napoleon of crime.  He doesn’t appear in the book on which this is based and we never get from the play a sense of dramatic conflict where the super-villain is pitted against our super-hero. Instead we have Holmes’ neurotic ramblings about ‘one of the finest brains in Europe with all the powers of darkness at his back.’

This play based on the last Sherlock Holmes novel, written 30 years after the first story and, to put it mildly, the esteemed author was running out of puff.  He was interested in the Molly Macguires and so framed a novella about them with a Sherlock Holmes top and tail.  This is no great structure for a play and there is simply not enough interplay between the two narratives.

That said, it is technically a fine production with atmospheric songs and plays of light and darkness on a dynamically changing set.  Joseph Derrington does a wonderful job as the put-upon Dr Watson, literally hobbling around after his mercurial friend.  He is responsible for most of the laughs in this production.

Bobby Bradley gamely steps up to the part of Sherlock Homes, supercilious and excitable by turns, sometimes standing still in contemplation and sometimes leaping off the furniture.  His relationship with Watson when he is hurt that he has not been told some feature of deduction, is touching and an original contribution from this production.

The Blackeyed Theatre company has previously produced winning dramas based on such classics as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Dracula.  Holmes is an obvious choice for them to continue the work of putting classic prose authors on stage, but this was not the material to choose.


Location: Southwark Playhouse Borough

Playwright: Nick Lane

Director: Nick Lane

Cast: Bobby Bradley, Joseph Derrington, Blake Kubena, Gavin Molloy, Alice Osmanski

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes with interval

Until: 13 April

Picture credit: Simon Vail