“The Singular Exploits of Sherlock Holmes” was not entirely something I would have chosen to view, as I am remarkably picky about portrayals of the great fictional consulting detective, and aside from Jeremy Brett, I find others lacking in some way. However, my good friend Romanna was champing at the bit to go, and the Art House had offered us half-price tickets after the slight snafu with the Steamship Shenanigans last month, so I was hard-pressed to refuse.
The steamship, docked in Southampton, is the SS Shieldhall, and it is an absolutely fantastic vessel, kept alive by donations and events such as the one I was attending. I can recommend it to anyone with a penchant for the nautical or the vintage (or, indeed, the both) as it ticks all the boxes, and the bar stocks very pleasant drinks for all palates – I was treated to a Disaronno and cola, and Romanna had a cola, but there was also a vast selection of decent real ales.
The area of deck we were on for the actual performance was lovely; nicely decorated without going overboard, and with the addition of the props for the performance itself was very era-appropriate.
The performance area was rather small, and (more fool me) I hadn’t read much about the performance or the performers, so I had initially wondered how a cast would fit there. I needn’t have worried; there was only one actor, the estimable Jonathan Goodwin. Jonathan is the Artistic Director of “Don’t Go Into the Cellar! Theatre Company”, and not only did he take on the role of Sherlock Holmes with just his trusty costumes and props and Technical Director Gary Archer, he also took on the roles of various other characters whom Holmes had interacted with, up to and including both his brother Mycroft Holmes, and his long-time nemesis Professor Moriarty.
As an avid lover of theatre and an ex-theatre student, watching Jonathan flash between characters in the blink of an eye, the only real change being a new coat or a hat or pair of glasses, was nothing short of fabulous, and made a thorough fangirl of me. The cosmetic changes of costume were nothing on the changes of voice, mannerism, and posture that Jonathon implemented to make us his audience believe he was a completely different character.
Holmes explained that he was, of course, real, and that Conan Doyle was John Watson’s agent. The script cleverly included little references to the different Holmes books, as well as references to the various different incarnations of the great detective himself. There was a short scene in the style of Robert Downey Jr’s version of Holmes, and references to popular modern books (“The curious incident of doggerel in the nighttime” for instance). There were even references to one of the American incarnations of Sherlock Holmes, in which Holmes ended up married. He decided to ‘borrow’ an audience member for this, and just so happened upon Romanna, who seemed to be in a mild state of shock for the rest of the performance.
Being such an intimate performance (I estimate that there were fewer than 30 people in attendance) there was much in the way of audience interaction – Jonathon as Holmes was eager to catch the eye of various audience members and address them almost personally (myself included) regarding such things as our understanding of his deductive methods. He also had some moments of audience participation, such as requesting our assistance to be his “rabble” to distract Irene Adler, yelling “FIRE!” on command, and the aforementioned borrowing of an audience member.
Obviously, a healthy dose of suspension of disbelief was required, but that certainly didn’t detract from the talent of both Jonathan as Holmes (and everyone else!) and of Gary dealing with sound effects and music at the perfect moments. Watching Jonathan as Holmes was, to me, a lot like watching a protégée of Jeremy Brett’s; little ticks and moments of apparent madness, and a brief foray into the realms of cocaine intoxication. If any readers are going to be in or around Wednesbury on the 26th July, The Singular Exploits of Sherlock Holmes will be showing at the Wednesbury Museum and Art Gallery. Otherwise, please check out the Don’t Go Into the Cellar! website to find out what is playing, when, and how near to you it is. You won’t regret it!
I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to Mike Daish of Mike Daish Photography for allowing me to use his photographs for this review.