Holmes comes to Haverhill

To Haverhill’s leafy East Town Park on a balmy summer evening for The Chapterhouse Theatre Company’s splendid production of The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. As far as I could make out, this is an original play and a fine one it is too. Tightly constructed with stylish, snappy dialogue, this is close to the spirit of the original. Flocks of swifts dart through the sky and soundtrack of twittering birds makes for an evocative setting.

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Holmes and Watson are summoned to a nunnery to investigate the mysterious Eye of God, an ancient talisman that has been protected within the nunnery for centuries. Holmes is acted with some aplomb, both masterful and eccentric, capturing his infuriating brilliance. (The performance is another reminder of the sizable debt Dr Who owes to Holmes and Conan Doyle). Watson is equally good, unusually robust, and less deferential than he is in the original stories. Both actors are magnificent speakers – projecting out into the trees and the families playing in the park. There is terrific chemistry between the two and the long suffering Watson’s nerves (and teeth) are tested to the limit.

The supporting cast are excellent too; the formidable head of the convent has a wholesome, matronly authority while the two novices are respectively feisty and earnest. Brother Benjamin (a beekeeper Holmes fans!) has a superb energy and holds his own against the two male leads.

There is a slight uncertainty of tone. Like the books, the play is essentially a melodrama and the company has resisted the urge to play it too broad. There are moments of mild slapstick however, which threaten to take it into more comic territory but this is by no means a send up. There are touches of horror too and the drama with its various wrong -footing diversions is expertly executed.

All the usual Holmesian tropes are in place: Sherlock appears in disguise, there’s the Webley revolver and some very natty tailoring; Holmes is pencil thin in green tweeds and wing collar. The smoking has been toned down for more enlightened times and audiences, although, amusingly, some herbal cigarettes play an unusually important part in the drama.

A light shower during the second half (cue a spray of floral umbrellas) only served to add atmosphere to this compelling production and I thoroughly enjoyed myself (abetted by a couple of bottles of Badger’s Hopping Hare beer!) The evening was topped off by winning a bottle of white wine in the half time raffle and best of all, it was Watson who sold me the winning ticket! Gloriously old fashioned, outdoor entertainment for ages 12 to 112.