Sherlock Holmes: The Sign of Four/Malvern Theatres

WE’RE waiting for it but never once do those famous words pass the great detective’s lips.

Well, I suppose it’s elementary my dear reader. Writer and director Nick Lane wanted to put his distinctive stamp on this ripping yarn by Arthur Conan Doyle and so that classic line seems to have ended up on the cutting room floor.

More surprises lie in store. For Joseph Derrington’s Doctor Watson not only refuses to be the great Holmes’ faithful old Labrador but also demonstrates that he has a very keen mind of his own.

Obviously, it cannot quite match the towering intellect of the celebrity sleuth himself, but nevertheless he proves – courtesy of his perceptive narrative – that this particular Watson is very much his own man.

What’s more, he’s got red blood in his veins, as evidenced by a romantic interlude halfway through the story. Gad sir, the shock’s enough to shatter a thousand monocles from Bangalore to Bombay.

Our indomitable gumshoe is played with steely resolution by Luke Barton, who is charged with unravelling a tangled tale involving the mysterious disappearance of a husband, lost treasure, a man with one leg… and all set against British-ruled India in a state of rebellion.

No wonder then that Holmes frequently advises his trusty sidekick to pack a pistol.

Barton and Derrington make for a wonderfully convincing double act, deftly supported by Stephanie Rutherford, Christopher Glover and Ru Hamilton who swap roles faster than a cobra’s strike.

Hamilton’s portrayal of a father and son pair of colonial types is pure Kenneth Williams, more camp that a line of bell tents in the Khyber Pass, while Zach Lee’s Tommy Atkins character rails against British imperialism with remarkable eloquence from the lip of the parapet.

Meanwhile, composer Tristan Parkes’ evocative score powers the whole thing along, keeping time with Sherlock’s butterfly mind.

This Blackeyed Theatre production runs until Saturday (May 18).

John Phillpott