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A Sherlock Carol at Marylebone Theatre

With so many versions of A Christmas Carol doing the rounds (well, it is that time of year), it takes something pretty substantial to stand out from the crowd of Jacob Marleys, Tiny Tims and Ebenezer Scrooges. A Sherlock Carol may not make perfect sense, even for those of us who have familiarity with the relevant Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle stories, and some of Sherlock Holmes’ (Ben Caplan) lines are delivered with such rapidity it was like listening to Gordon Brown when he was Chancellor rattling off spending figures during his Budget statements. This version of Holmes doesn’t exactly reveal the findings of his investigations with the stately air of Sir David Suchet’s Hercule Poirot.

Damian Lynch, Rosie Armstrong & Ben Caplan. A Sherlock Carol at Marylebone Theatre. Photography by Danny Kaan.
Damian Lynch, Rosie Armstrong & Ben Caplan. A Sherlock Carol at Marylebone Theatre. Photography by Danny Kaan.

The brisk pace, however, suits a contemporary London audience, and it is frankly far better than the drudgery of a show that proceeds too slowly. To mash two such iconic characters of nineteenth-century English fiction together in a single narrative is almost too risky, particularly for a show that originated in New York (and indeed has another run there this season, at the off-Broadway venue New World Stages). This version is presented in London at a theatre less than five minutes walk from The Sherlock Holmes Museum, which was given permission by Westminster City Council to use 221B Baker Street as its address, even though it is technically at 239 Baker Street, and therefore receives correspondence addressed to Holmes. Whether they actually reply to letters from fans, as an employee of the Abbey National used to do decades ago (when the bank had offices at 221), I couldn’t possibly say.

The show is therefore, in this context, something of a love letter from writer and director Mark Shanahan to London. There’s an additional risk in that the writer directs his own work, without a second pair of eyes to look at various aspects of the show. Altogether, the risks pay off in this delightful take on these well-known and well-loved stories, in which there are some twists and yet plenty of familiarity. With that in mind, does it work better over here than in New York? My suspicion is that it does – take, for instance, some detailed references lifted straight out of Dickens to various places and street names in London. There are even tourists to London who have been able to navigate their way around central London at least partly based on their reading of Dickens’ works.

This American production has a distinctly British feel, with the art of storytelling relied upon, rather than pops and whizzes like fake snow and overly colourful backdrops. There wasn’t, to the best of my recollection, any stage smoke, or if there was, it was unnoticeable. The costumes (Linda Cho) are excellent and exquisite, and I can’t say anything more about that without venturing into spoiler territory.

With a cast of six, the show’s programme doesn’t, perhaps commendably, even attempt to name all of the various characters played by the four actors who weren’t Holmes or Scrooge. Kammy Darweish’s Ebenezer Scrooge steals the show, commanding the stage with pleasurable energy (he’s already had his ghostly visitations, y’see). Of course, there’s a happy ending. There are even a couple of carols thrown into the mix. It’s never overdone and doesn’t get too sentimental. An enjoyable and refreshing treat.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Three Christmases since the famous confrontation with his nemesis Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls, Sherlock Holmes has little appetite for mince pies or for solving crime. Wandering through Victorian London, he meets a grown-up and not-so-Tiny Tim who implores him to investigate the mysterious death of his reformed benefactor, one Ebenezer Scrooge.

An impossible murder, a threatening letter, and a missing diamond – it’s just enough to intrigue the great detective. But it’s a dark and treacherous Christmas Eve, and once again the night is haunted by the spirits of the past, present, and future. Using his powers of deduction, can Holmes overcome his own ghosts to crack the case?

The worlds of Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle combine on stage in this ‘instant holiday classic’, coming to London for the first time, just a stone’s throw from Holmes’ fictional base at 221B Baker Street itself.

Cast:

Ben Caplan (Sherlock Holmes) was PC Noakes in five series of Call the Midwife. In the West End he was Eddie Kassner in the musical Sunny Afternoon. He recently was in The Winter’s Tale at the Royal Shakespeare Company and filmed the new BBC comedy series Lagging.

Kammy Darweish (Ebenezer Scrooge) was in the original cast of Life of Pi at Sheffield Crucible and the national tour of East of East and has appeared in several productions at the RSC and NT.

Rosie Armstong (The Countess and others) was in A Small Family Business (National Theatre) and Chimerica and Potted Panto (West End).

Richard James (Dr Watson and others) recently toured the UK theatres in adaptations of David
Walliams’ best-selling children’s books Gangsta Granny, Awful Auntie and Grandpa’s Great Escape.

Gemma Laurie (Emma Wiggins and others) was in The Long Shadow (ITV) and is making her London stage debut.

Damian Lynch (Dr Cratchit and others) was in the West End production of The Comedy About a Bank Robbery. He is also an acclaimed voice artist and winner of the BBC Carleton Hobbs Radio Award.

Creative Team:
Writer & Director Mark Shanahan
Scenic Designer Anna Louizos
Costume Designer Linda Cho
Lighting Designer Rui Rita
Composer & Sound Designer John Gromada
Casting Director Abby Galvin

Associate Director Franny Rafferty
Associate Scenic Designer William Fricker
Associate Lighting Designer Holly Ellis
Associate Costume Designer Ricky Lurie
Costume Supervisor Jo Lewis

Mark Shanahan | Writer/Director

DEM Productions, Fat Goose Productions, and Theatre Nerd Productions present
the UK premiere of
A Sherlock Carol
Written and directed by Mark Shanahan
18 November – 7 January

A Sherlock Carol, written and directed by Mark Shanahan, gets its UK premiere at Marylebone Theatre, Rudolf Steiner House, 35 Park Road, London, NW1 6XT, from 18 November – 17 January.
https://www.demproductions.co.uk/

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