Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear | Southwark Playhouse

One of the first books I ever read as a young boy was a compendium of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. It was love at first read and I’ve read them a number of times since. I was fascinated by the detective and over the years I’ve watched many films, TV series and most importantly listened to the various radio iterations and just recently I downloaded the series that stars Clive Merrison as the detective and Michael Williams as his sidekick and chronicler, Dr John Watson. So with great relish I set off to the Southwark Playhouse to see Blackeyed Theatre’s adaptation of Sherlock Holmes: The Valley Of Fear.

Blackeyed Theatre Valley of Fear. Credit Simon Vail.
Blackeyed Theatre Valley of Fear. Credit Simon Vail.

Sherlock Holmes: The Valley Of Fear is based on one of Doyle’s full-length novels (the last one he wrote). In the book, there are two seemingly separate stories – one set in London where Holmes receives a cipher warning of a plot against a country gentleman called Douglas, and Holmes, Watson and a police inspector set off to a place called Birlstone House to investigate. The other story is set a few years earlier in America in the fictional Vermissa Valley where Douglas had been an undercover detective investigating a corrupt, evil secret society who were murdering people. In the book, these two stories are told separately until the end where Holmes inevitably solves the mystery. In Nick Lane’s adaptation, the two stories are intermingled which was probably meant to clarify the narrative but unfortunately, this device made the play almost unintelligible, confused and very hard to follow. There’s even an odd appearance by Moriarty (Holmes’s arch nemesis) at an art exhibition, an event that doesn’t appear in the book but does here.

On a simple set with a table, some wooden boxes, and some other props, the five actors, Bobby Bradley, Joseph Derrington, Blake Kubena, Gavin Molloy and Alice Osmanski, each play several characters that at times add to the confusion. There was also a lot of bringing on and taking off of furniture and props, sometimes with the actors singing hymns but only in the first act – they stopped in the second. The story is narrated by Watson addressing the audience directly. He and the other actors do their best with some stilted dialogue but at two and a half hours long (including an interval) it’s hard to keep the concentration going.  Even the couple of fight scenes weren’t very believable which is a shame as they brought the only real action to the story.

When the play does finally end, even the big reveal where Holmes uses his well-honed, legendary deductive skills (some say he uses inductive reasoning) and the thing we Holmes’ lovers look forward to as he pulls everything together, was a bit of a damp squib and instead of being the “wow” moment, was a bit of a yawn.

There’s no sin in adapting a terrific novel like Sherlock Holmes: The Valley Of Fear for the stage but it is a sin if the result is overlong, dull, boring and sleep-inducing! I still love Holmes, Watson and their adventures but I think I’ll stick to the audio versions in future.


Review by Alan Fitter

The great detective is back for another game! Crammed full of adventure, mystery and of course one or two rather brilliant deductions, The Valley Of Fear, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s thrilling final Sherlock Holmes novel, is brought to life in this spectacular new stage adaptation.

A mysterious, coded message is received, a warning of imminent danger, drawing Sherlock Holmes and the faithful Dr Watson into a tale of intrigue and murder stretching from 221B Baker Street to an ancient, moated manor house to the bleak Pennsylvanian Vermissa Valley. Faced with a trail of bewildering clues, Holmes begins to unearth a darker, wider web of corruption, a secret society and the sinister work of one Professor Moriarty.

27 MAR – 13 APR 2024