Sherlock Holmes The Last Act / Watson: The Final Problem

Aug 16 2023 | By More

★★★★☆   Mercurial and  ★★★★☆ Reliable

Holmes: theSpace @ Surgeons Hall (Venue 53): Fri 4 – Sat 26 Aug 2023
Watson: Assembly George Sq Studios(Venue 17): Wed 2 – Mon 28 Aug 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

Fringe Management’s Sherlock Holmes The Last Act (at theSpace @ Surgeons Hall) and Watson: The Final Problem, from Tim Marriott and Something For The Weekend (at Assembly George Square Studios), are both clever, beautifully performed pieces of theatre. They both provide novelty, as well as fidelity to the work of Arthur Conan Doyle.

As the similar titles suggest, the two pieces have much in common. They are both one-handers, both have a renowned Holmesian involved in the piece’s creation, and both are performed by someone who knows exactly what they are doing.

Nigel Miles-Thomas in Sherlock Holmes The Last Act

Holmes stars Nigel Miles-Thomas, who has played the part before, and is written by David Stuart Davies, whose track record reworking and expanding the source material is well established. It features the ageing detective, long since retired to a life of beekeeping in Sussex, revisiting his career.

Watson is performed by Tim Marriott, who co-wrote the play with Bert Coules. Coules, who also directs, is responsible for adapting the entire Holmes canon for BBC Radio, as well as penning his own extensions to it. The play is unsurprisingly based largely on the story The Final Problem – the one with Moriarty and the Reichenbach Falls – but also deals with the relationship between Holmes and Watson up to that point, from the point of view of the doctor.

There is a great deal lot of overlap between the material. Both plays naturally feature the pair’s first meeting, introduced by ‘young Stamford’; both also lean heavily on the events of The Speckled Band.

enjoyment and elucidation

Familiarity with the sources is helpful in deriving full enjoyment, but is not assumed in either case. Neophytes as well as established fans will derive enjoyment and elucidation, but newcomers should bear in mind that the conclusion of more than one story is discussed in both productions.

The Holmes production features more in the way of speculative material not strictly derived from Conan Doyle, but it is sensitive and thoroughly believable; none of the bizarre flights of fancy that too often spoil dramatic extensions of the legend are present.

Tim Marriott in Watson: The Final Problem

The care with which both productions have put together can be seen from the way they incidentally try to deal with some of the references that have puzzled many in the stories – Watson’s mysterious ‘bull pup’ in one, his wandering war wound in the other.

The two performances reflect the usual public perception of the characters. Miles-Thomas is a more impressionistic, wide-ranging Holmes, inhabiting extremely impressively both the younger, more vigorous Sherlock and the older, more broken-down version. He also plays a large number of other characters with skill and humour.

Marriott’s portrayal is more solid and perhaps more traditional. He does also portray other characters, but they are very definitely Watson’s image of them, not Marriott’s; his Holmes is very much the unfathomable figure Watson sees, rather than a rounded portrait. This is Watson as every inch the reliable but comparatively straightforward foil, insisting he will not tell us the end of The Sign of Four before proceeding to do so at length.

atmosphere and tension

Both productions are technically very sound. Coules directs Watson with assurance, and also provides dramatic lighting. There is more flair to Gareth Armstrong’s direction of Holmes, which accordingly scores more highly in atmosphere and tension.

Holmes is (just) the superior production, but Watson is a thoroughly pleasing, reliable piece of theatre. Whether you are a dedicated player of the Great Game (where Sherlockians treat the characters as real, and attempt to resolve the canon’s many contradictions) or don’t know Irene Adler from Mrs Hudson, there is much entertainment to be had in either show.

Holmes: Running time: One hour (no interval)
theSpace @ Surgeons Hall (Grand Theatre), Nicolson St, EH8 9DW (Venue 53)
Friday 4 – Saturday 26 August 2023
Daily (not 13) at 4.25 pm
Tickets and details Book here.

Company website:

Watson: Running time: One hour (no interval)
Assembly George Square Studios (Studio 3), George Sq, EH8 9LH (Venue 17)
Wednesday 2 – Monday 28 August 2023
Daily (not 7, 14, 21) at 3.15 pm
Tickets and details: Book here.

Company website:

Instagram: @marriott2965

Facebook: @twmarriott

Twitter: @timmarriott_

Nigel Miles-Thomas in Holmes and Tim Marriott in Watson


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