Go to Sherlock Holmes Go to JB Archive: On Stage
The Secret of Sherlock Holmes
Role: Sherlock Holmes
The Secret of Sherlock Holmes
Role: Sherlock Holmes
Audio of the play recorded by Woods & Pritchard:
Text of the play: Available at Amazon.com
A fans account of the play and meeting Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke:
The Secret of Sherlock Holmes ran in London's West End, at the Wyndham Theatre in the 1988-1989 season for a couple hundred performances.
Most of the reviews were pretty harsh, but I enjoyed it enough to see it three times (a student work visa, student prices, and a tendency towards fanaticism about the West End helped (it was only one of the 37 productions I saw in those three months).
Leicester Square. It was built in the late 1880's, and still retains a great deal of its Victorian flavor. There are gilt mouldings and cherubs on the ceiling, box seats on either side of the stage, and brass railings to hang over. One of the nights I went some zealous fans flung red roses onto the stage. Carried away by the atmosphere, I guess. Just sitting down in the Wyndham puts you in the age of Holmes.
Spoilers ahead. The play starts off where the stories do, so you get
all the fun of a description of Holmes and Watson's first meeting from
both POVs with some really fun asides (mostly Watson's). Hardwicke
seemed to take great relish in being on stage, although it was, of
course, Brett who did the most outrageously broad Victorian stage
magic. What surprised and delighted me was that Hardwicke's low-keyed,
naturalistic style still managed to project itself out past the
footlights and his flamboyant partner; he was every bit as effective on
stage as on the small screen. Teach me to be ignorant of an actor's
stage career! I'd known that Brett had been part of Olivier's National
Theatre, but I wasn't aware that Hardwicke was also part of that group
[watch the film version of Olivier's Othello if you don't believe me],
and that he was Rosencrantz in the original run of Stoppard's
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. (And as a complete aside, Edward
Petherbridge was Guildenstern. You can hear them on the BBC radio
version.) Oh. Right. The Holmes play. My favorite bits were Watson and
Holmes getting down to brass tacks about their suitability as
flatmates. Holmes did sudden starts, such as musing, "What other bad
habits do I have that is MY chair!!" as Watson is just about to sit
down. And then when Watson mentions that he hates rows, Holmes asks
worriedly if he counts violins. Watson replies that if it's badly
played, yes it's a row, but a well-played violin is a treat for the
gods. "Well, that's all right then." murmurs Holmes with egotistical
unconcern. Then came the bit where Watson lists Holmes's shortcomings.
Hardwicke had us in the aisles as he ticked off the points in his
notebook: "Philosphy, nil. Astronomy, nil. Politics, feeble. Botany,
variable: well up in belladonna, opium and poisons generally." None of
the stories is done in whole, mostly just mentioned as pastiches. But
Jeremy Paul was careful to restrain a lot of the dialogue to Conan
Doyles's words. The main focus of the play is the relationship between
Watson and Holmes. The first act curtain ran down on Holmes returning
from the dead, Watson fainting and Holmes exclaiming, "I had no idea
you'd be so affected!" Which was a beautiful set up for the second act.
The second act was an "alternate reality" version of Holmes's resurrection scene in "The Empty House". Paul decided that Holmes allowed his best friend to think that he was dead for some three years because he had never truly considered the depth of Watson's feelings, and the scene was written so that the realization of how wrongly Holmes had acted was forcibly borne upon him. At the point where Holmes is describing Reichenbach and being left alone, Watson throws out the line, "YOU were left alone..." and there was an awkward pause which Holmes skipped over. The scene then peaked when Holmes said that he feared Watson's affection for him would lead him into an indiscretion. Watson, wounded to the core, abruptly left the room, banging the door behind him. There was a very long pause, while Holmes is left alone in the center of a very quiet room, and he understands that he's made a monumental misjudgment. When Watson returns, stony-faced but forgiving, Holmes does his best to apologize with rapid explanations. Watson unbends as the tales of Holmes's travels unfold. When Holmes stops speaking it's then Watson's turn to tell his side of the event. In a delightful and unexpected role reversal, Watson begins to describe the trail of deductions that led him to the conclusion that Holmes had survived Reichenbach.
WATSON: Some weeks before, I found I had mislaid some medical notes. I concluded that I had left them here, among your papers. I called on Mrs. Hudson and learnt that your brother, Mycroft, had instructed her to keep these rooms just as they were and had continued to pay the rent. It was my first intimation that you were alive. ... I went to see Mycroft. He received me, with a certain stiff cordiality, at the Diogenes Club. HOLMES: (amazed) Mycroft? WATSON: In the Strangers' Room. A very soothing atmosphere, if a little misanthropic. I put it to him quite bluntly. I said I thought you were alive and he knew of your whereabouts. HOLMES is now seated in his chair and WATSON has moved to the front of the desk. HOLMES: And what did he say to that? WATSON: He twitched. HOLMES: But he was sworn to secrecy! WATSON: Oh, he was as good as his word on that point. He explained that he had preserved Baker Street as a memorial to you...on a whim. But your training me in the observation of human behaviour, Holmes, had not been in vain. Didn't you once tell me that human features are faithful servants to their emotions? It was not your brother's face, which showed no human emotion whatever, but a persistent tapping of the fingers of his left hand which drew my attention. WATSON taps the fingers of his left hand on the desk top lightly. HOLMES: He is right-handed. WATSON: He had a large brandy and soda in his right hand. That never wavered.
After that, the rest of the play was a let down. The titular secret is that Holmes is Moriarty. Yeah. Don't ask me how but it worked on stage. Reading the play won't give you the sense of it, but somehow, as Holmes is confessing this heinous fact to Watson, Brett managed to transform himself with a shake of the head and a click of the tongue into Moriarty: same pose as the Paget illustration, with the high forehead, and the beady little lizard eyes. His face just melted into Moriarty's expression. Very eery and effective, but outside of that theatre, it doesn't make sense.
|The best part was after the curtain came down (to curtain calls, of course) and the theatre emptied. I'd never hung around stage doors before, but my landlady had very kindly informed me that if I wanted to get autographs, I could do so by hanging around the stage door and waiting. So, I did, the third time around. It seemed silly not to. Edward Hardwicke came out first. I remember that he was shorter than me, and had the kindest eyes of anybody I've ever known. I don't remember much else, because my brains turned instantly into cottage cheese. I suppose I must have endeared myself to him by mentioning that I was working as a typist in order to support my three-times-a-week theatre habit, and this little spark lit in his eye, and we were talking a mile a minute. And just as my heartrate started to settle, Brett walked out the stage door.|
afraid I dropped Hardwicke rather abruptly, and he made off too
quickly for me to apologize, for which I will never forgive myself. But
then I got to meet Jeremy Brett. He wore a black sweater, a strange
sort of woven cap, vaguely Tibetan, and little bells around his neck on
a cord (I guess he was getting into the bit about Holmes seeing the
Holy Lama). A completely and utterly different personality. He gushed.
He was an absolute sweetheart. And he threw out the words "Six more
next year!" (this was May 1989), and I suppose my face must have been
beaming, and I was saying something about how life just doesn't get
much better than this, and he swooped upon me, exclaiming, "Oh, how
sweet!", and gave me a peck on the cheek. Ever had an adrenalin rush of
lightening-bolt proportions? Take it from me; never try to find your
way home on the Tube after something like that. Just don't. It took me
four stops before I realized I'd taken the wrong direction on the
Piccadilly line. I even have a picture of the occasion.
No, clicking on it won't get you a larger version of it. Believe me, larger would not make this any clearer. You see, I have an old manual SLR camera. Without a flash. Perhaps the worst thing in the world to hand to a helpful stranger at night in a dark alley to take your picture with Jeremy Brett. Especially when she feels that she absolutely has to refocus it, when you told her not to. Ah, well. At least I've got a picture. And that's an end to my rambling.
|A review of the play by Louise
I saw this production at the Wyndham's in July 1989. I remember being so excited about being able to see Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke, as Holmes and Watson, live, on stage. In London. In the stalls. On the third row (I think, I didn't keep the ticket). So close I could see their make-up. So close I could smell the tobacco which clung to Jeremy's clothes and the stuff he was wearing on his hair. So close I could see the veins in his wrist, and see the flashes in his beautiful eyes.
play itself - I didn't know what to expect. The programme said that it
was a new story by Jeremy Paul, concerning Moriarty. It covered ground
relating to the fight at the Falls, and Holmes' subsequent
disappearance. It related their first meeting, and Watson's marriage.
In short, it opened out the back story which was only floating around,
unspoken, during the Granada series.
I was impressed with Jeremy's stage presence, his stature, his voice. With a movement of his hand, or a quick smile, or a glance towards his Watson, he could be friendly, fearless, sardonic. In Jeremy Paul's script was a touch of cruelty we hadn't seen in the TV Holmes, and a touch of indignation on the part of Watson. You could tell these men had a high regard for each other, but could not necessarily show it.
I seem to recall the play had no interval, but I can't be sure of that. It certainly felt as if it was one long piece, and it was absolutely absorbing. It felt as if the audience was part of something special. There were Holmesians there, trying to spot Canonical mistakes. There were Jeremy fans of all ages and genders. There were, on the night I was there, several other actors in the audience, some friends, some admirers of Jeremy (and Edward). It was a diverse group.
Although the ending was a little disappointing (and I won't spoil it if you haven't seen it), it was done with such grace and aplomb that it was quickly forgiven. There were three curtain calls, the first had Jeremy and Edward coming on together to ever increasing applause; the second had first Edward, then Jeremy, coming on for seperate bows (by which time we were on our feet, cheering); the third had them again coming on together. I can still see Jeremy's smile of delight at the reception from his audience, as they were his, no question about it.
On the way out we overheard someone saying that Jeremy Brett 'was' Sherlock Holmes. I can think of no better tribute.