In 2005, the Hollywood Theatre of the Ear released a series of Sherlock Holmes plays starring Martin Jarvis as Holmes, and Kristoffer Tabori as Watson.
First up is Sherlock Holmes. The play is written by William Gillette and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and its performed (as far as I can tell) unabridged from the original text. The play is solidly acted, but the main reason to listen to it is to hear the play exactly as it was performed when it was first written.
From a modern listener’s perspective, the play’s a mixed bag. On one hand, it is delightful to see how many bits from the Holmes stories get mixed into this play. On the other, it has a very slow pace and quite a few scenes that are not that interesting. The opening scene in particular seems to go on forever. This is a play that goes on well over two hours. Orson Welles took the text of the play and condensed it back in 1938 for the Mercury Theater, and I think that version is more entertaining. This version is more authentic as it has so much in it.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is, while Holmes still does his deductive bits, the play makes him into a swashbuckling romantic hero. Doyle was not proprietary about the character or canon and went places that many Holmes purists would frown upon to make a commercially successful play.
Next up is The Speckled Band. This play was written by Doyle alone and it expands on one of the best Holmes short stories. The play changes the name of the woman who comes to Holmes for help from Helen Stoner to Enid Stoner for reasons that aren’t clear.
The play begins after Enid Stoner has died under mysterious circumstances just before she was about to marry. Much of the information about the elder Stoner sister’s death that was relayed in the client consultation in the short story, we get to hear discussed at a coroner’s inquest.
Perhaps the highlight of the play is that we get to hear more of Doctor Grimesby Roylott. Next to Professor Moriarty, he’s the most memorable villain in Holmes but we only get to see him for one scene in the short story and otherwise learn about his actions second hand. In the play, we get to hear him in action. Dwight Schultz (A-Team and Star Trek) does a great job bringing to life this dangerous, maniacal, manipulative villain in a really unforgettable performance.
The play does have its weak points. A lot of the material does come off as fluff and padding. One of the silliest parts was where Enid needed someone to tell her to go and see Holmes and Watson, even though the play has her meet Doctor Watson at the inquest. Also, Roylott is undermined after he asks her to sign over her money to him and she refuses and he tells her this is her last chance and she’ll be sorry, and then comes back later in the play to make the same offer and once again is clear that it’s her last chance.
Like with the first play, The Speckled Band’s biggest selling point is its authenticity to the original Doyle play.
The collection concludes with Ghastly Double Murder in Famed Detective’s Flat, a one-act comedy play by Yuri Rasovsky. It’s essentially a three-hander with the premise that Holmes, Watson, and Mrs. Hudson are unlikable, amoral, hypocrites who secretly despise one another. When Holmes announces he’s going to retire to beekeeping and give up his rooms at Baker Street, leaving Watson without a meal ticket to help retire his gambling debts and Mrs. Hudson without a tenant. So the only thing to be done is for Watson and Mrs. Hudson to frame Holmes for murder. Rasovsky also inserts that Holmes and Mrs. Hudson had an affair.
In my opinion, this isn’t funny at all. Comedy is possible in Sherlock Holmes but good comedy works when its consistent with the characters and draws its comedy from who the characters are. In this case, this is a cynical play that’s far less clever than it thinks it is. I question the decision to include it in this collection. The first two plays are going to appeal to fans of Holmes and Watson who’d love nothing more than to hear the original Victorian plays. A lot of people interested in that would be turned off by Rasovsky’s one-act play and I doubt those who would be interested in Rasovsky’s play would be into 4 hours of Victorian Melodrama. The best thing about Ghastly Double Murder in the Famed Detective’s Flat is that is mercifully short, adding up to about 45 minutes. Although, it does feel considerably longer. If it were longer, it would seriously downgrade the set.
Overall, I’d recommend this collection if you’re interested in hearing full cast Victorian Sherlock Holmes plays. If you’re not interested in the final play, you can skip it and your life won’t be the poorer for it.
Rating; 3.75 out of 5