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Sherlock on stage

This new interpretation of a classic Holmes story will please traditionalists and the modern-minded alike.

A Blackeyed Theatre production of Sherlock Holmes mystery The Sign of Four is on a mega tour and dropping into Eastbourne’s Devonshire Park Theatre from Tues 30 April – Sat 4 May. It’s a GCSE set text, so a great one to get teens along to.

Luke Barton as Sherlock Holmes and Joseph Derrington as Dr Watson

Muddy caught the mystery earlier on it’s run…

The Sign of Four is the second Holmes book and is not as well known as other stories but has plenty of twists and turns.

When Mary Morstan arrives at 221B, Baker Street to request help to unravel the mystery of her missing father, Holmes and Watson enter a murky world of murder, corruption and stolen jewels that stretches from Victorian London to India.

The Blackeyed company has a reputation for giving literary classics a new interpretation and this production, adapted and directed by Nick Lane, will please traditionalists and the modern-minded alike.

On the traditional side, it sticks faithfully to the text and characters are in period costume. On the modern side, some actors play multiple parts and take up instruments at the edges of the stage when they’re not in a scene. There’s also minimal set.

Pieces of the set are frequently upended and repurposed to make, for instance, an Indian fort or a boat for a chase along the Thames – a contemporary staging that’s great for engaging younger audiences. Characters also mime out certain situations, one instance involving the chalking round a body was a little confusing, but otherwise this stylised element worked well.

Luke Barton is a youthful, ruffled-haired Sherlock and to my mind brings just the right amount of self-assured arrogance to the role to have you smiling.

Though the dialogue is pleasingly faithful to Conan Doyle’s written words there’s a bit of extra fun drawn from Dr Watson’s romantic interest in Mary Morstan, the good doctor played with charming awkwardness by Joseph Derrington.

Stephanie Rutherford as Mary Morstan

Music is used brilliantly throughout with the likes of trombones and clarinets providing background atmosphere or sound effects. Stephanie Rutherford who plays Mary is particularly impressive on multiple instruments when she’s not in character.

The story is heavily grounded in colonial India with some scenes told in flashback in the country and music helping set the mood. I was interested to see how aspects I remembered to be racially sensitive in the novel were handled for a modern audience. The answer is with a softening of some of the language and by Sherlock directly addressing the patronising treatment of an Indian servant.

Look out though for hybrid monikers kept in the play where Conan Doyle mangled Muslim, Hindu and Sikh first and second names. It’s the sort of detail GCSE pupils are no doubt learning about in literature class.

It’s a pacy play, faithful to the book but with a modern twist. Something to enjoy whether you love a Holmes yarn, you’ve only seen the modern Cumberbatch TV series, or you’ve a GCSE student to take with you.

Sherlock Holmes, The Sign of Four is at Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne, Tues 30 April – Sat 4 May. Tickets are from £16. (Under 16s and students £9)

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