Watching the play Holmes & Watson instantly transports the viewer to a realm that combines literature, the stage and the cinema.
After all, Harry Potter or similar franchise movie fiction has reaped monetary rewards that dwarf literary royalties from older publications. Yet there are a couple of three books from over a hundred years ago that spawned characters that have been read, and watched on stage and screen ever since.
Dracula has never been out of print since its initial publication in 1897. The characters of Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Dr. Watson first appeared in 1887 and continued for decades under the occasional indifferent hand of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Likewise that swinging cool cat Tarzan has never met a chimp he didn’t like since 1912. All the mentioned characters have achieved the trifecta of book, stage and screen.
On a side note, if you haven’t read the complete “according to Doyle” cannon of Sherlock Holmes put that on your to-do list. The entire output of 56 short stories and four novels will actually take less time to read cover to cover than if you were to bing watch the entire six seasons of Breaking Bad.
Supporting characters that are popular in the current and classic film adaptations were only one-time cameos in select stories. For instance, the short story A Scandel in Bohemia marks the only appearance of Irene Adler, and thusly Professor Moriarty technically appears in one short story, one in fact where Holmes appears to die plunging over a waterfall, although Moriarty or his criminal organizations are mentioned in a handful of other Holmes short stories.
Holmes & Watson was penned by Jeffrey Hatcher. Hatcher also wrote the screenplay adaptation for Mr. Holmes (2015), which depicted the famous sleuth in his nineties, living in a boarding house and trying to remember his last case. Current film versions of the adventures of Holmes and Watson are like the ultimate in fan fiction.
There was a time when you could’ve read the stories without the unconscious likelihood of imagining how the characters looked because of their portrayal on film, particularly Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Watson in a series of films cranked out in the 1930s and 1940s.
A recent franchise of films stars Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson, and quite frankly gets several aspects of their characters formerly only found in the books. Holmes is skilled in pugilistic skills as much as playing the violin, and Watson has a game leg, the result of his service in the British Army during the conflict in Afghanistan. There’s actually a Sherlock Holmes 3 set for release next year in pre-production but could you imagine going to that film and not having Downey, Jr. or Law playing the deductive duo?
That’s why the stage offers unlimited potential for a newly imagined Sherlock Holmes story. It doesn’t matter what the characters look like so much as how they sound. Holmes, ever condescending as he contemplates the clues hidden to others; and Watson given to bluster but still an intuitive force with which to be reckoned. You can close your eyes and still tell the difference in the characters.
Hatcher sets his tale after Holmes has supposedly died battling with Moriarty atop Reichenbach Falls. Dr. Watson has arrived on a remote island that houses an asylum. Among the inmates are three men who claim to be Sherlock Holmes.
The one main set suggests a huge room at the asylum. A background window reveals surging active waves that surround the island. Occasionally the fog seeps through and overruns the stage.
Nothing is at it appears to be. Each of the three inmates claiming to be Holmes are distinguished both by the overabundance or lack of hair and the verbal response to questioning. A parallel plotline seen in flashback involves Madame Adler using her operatic skills for a clever heist of valuable jewels.
As the fog rolls in and the participants reveal their true motives, the audience is treated to so many twists in the narrative that you let your guard down and don’t see the next big reveal until it’s upon you. To reveal another single hint would be contrary to the sportsmanship of not revealing spoilers! Suffice it to say that Holmes and Watson feels so much like a part of the Doyle cannon as to appear authentic.
Holmes & Watson plays at the Alley Theatre through July 22.