Review: Sherlock Holmes..The Last Act, New Wolsey Theatre

For an address that doesn’t actually exist, 221b Baker Street is one of the most recognisable addresses in London. Recent films and TV adaptations have of course added to the allure, but in truth the appeal of one of literatures most famous fictional detectives has never really gone away.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original novels have also spawned a number of sequels, plays, and adaptations and David Stuart Davies’ Sherlock Holmes.. The Last Act looks at a fading Holmes at the end of his life.

Part biography, part flashback, this one man show sees Holmes return to that famous Baker Street address one last time for the funeral of long term friend and assistant Watson. It is an address filled with ghosts and memories as Holmes recounts the long history the duo had and the challenges they faced fighting fiendish crimes.

For those expected the trademark Sherlock Holmes mystery though, they may be in for a surprise. This is a much more personal look at the character of Holmes and a man struggling to come to terms with a loss of sharpness. For a man used to relying on his razor sharp intellect, the decline into old age, accelerated by years of cocaine abuse, is hard to take.

There are flashbacks to Holmes’ past glories including the notorious Hound of The Baskervilles and an appearance from arch nemesis Moriarty, but at its heart this is the tale of the sometimes strained, but always admirable relationship between Holmes and Watson.

As a renowned Sherlock Holmes expert Davies’ script does, at times, assume that the audience are familiar with the Conan Doyle cannon. For those not familiar with the work there are moments that confuse and, while the monologue format does suit the vocalisation of Holmes’ internal thoughts, it is hard to sustain attention over two 45 minute acts.

Roger Llewellyn’s performance however does impress, switching between multiple characters, yet always maintaining the dignity of Holmes. With minimal set and props Llewellyn moves us from his very first encounter with Watson to their final meeting. Never leaving the stage it’s an impressive solo performance that manages to shake of any pre-conceptions from previous adaptations.

The ending would benefit from some work as the emotional climax is lost by a somewhat cheesy final few moments and there are sections that could be cut without any great detriment to the whole. Sherlock Holmes fans will find much to enjoy here but for those less familiar with the source material, while they may enjoy the skill of the performance, the overall impact may leave them feeling slightly cold.

A case of unanswered questions never being fully explained.

Review originally written for The Public Reviews

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