THEATRE REVIEW: The Sign of the Four – Blackeyed Theatre Company, UK Tour  

The difficulty with adapting Conan Doyle is the complexity of the plots. It can so easily get wordy and this version, adapted by Nick Lane who also directs, suffers (a bit) from too much exposition and not enough action in the first half. It improves after the interval, though.

Lane does, however, retell Conan Doyle’s 1890 novel pretty faithfully and the production showcases a talented cast of six, most of them accomplished actor-musicians with lots of physicality. And they’re supported by Victoria Spearing’s ingenious, adaptable set which comprises narrow geometric, scaffolding-like shapes.

We are never allowed to forget that the Sherlock Holmes novels and stories are narrated by Watson. Joseph Derrington finds plenty of colour in the role and his coyness in courting Mary Morstan (Stephanie Rutherford – see our interview in Nov 2018 issue) is nicely caught. From time to time the script takes him, for a few lines, into narration rather than dialogue which works quite well.

Rutherford is strong in all the female roles, especially Mary Morstan, whose presence is stepped up in this adaptation. She conveys a feisty character and when she finally succumbs to Watson’s wooing you know that this won’t be a very patriarchal marriage. An admirably versatile performer, Rutherford also brings impressive accent work to various servant roles as well as playing trombone, violin and several other instruments in Tristan Parkes’s atmospheric music.

Luke Barton who plays Holmes has distinctive stage presence coupled with the right balance between tiresome intelligence, serious diligence and ennui.

Christopher Glover is funny as the policeman, Athelney Jones, Ru Hamilton does well as the effete, camp Thaddeus Sholto and Zach Lee, playing Jonathan Small, makes a cumbersomely long monologue at the end, work surprisingly well. All three play instruments and there’s much ensemble work in which nearly everyone doubles as someone else – sometimes a little confusingly.

Review by Susan Elkin