Based on arguably the least well-known of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, The Valley of Fear has been adapted for the stage by Nick Lane of Blackeyed Theatre. Taken out of his comfort zone, Holmes (played by Luke Barton) finds himself on a case in the United States, investigating a murder at the Pennsylvanian Vermissa Valley. Accompanied by the ever-faithful Dr Watson (Joseph Derrington), Holmes finds himself investigating not just ‘foul play’, but a fictional organisation that has parallels with the inception of the ‘Teamster’ movement at the turn of the 20th century.
While perhaps a little younger than other Sherlocks we’re familiar with, Barton’s Holmes has the bearing of self-confidence, backed by erudite reasoning. As the chronicler of the tale, Derrington’s Watson is very much the audience’s simulacrum – accepting Holmes’ brilliance, but never attempting to understand how his mind can focus at the world at large with an almost unnatural, universal clarity. Watson is also resigned to the fact that he’ll seldom receive personal praise and attention from the public at large (though sometimes he’s pleasantly surprised when he does). And as Mrs Hudson, Alice Osmanski is able to show the character’s indifference at the prestige of these men, with her little asides subtly stealing the scene from her co-stars. Aside from Mrs Hudson, Osmanski plays four other characters in the play – a feat mirrored by not only Derrington and Barton, but by fellow stars Gavin Malloy and Blake Kubena who also appear in The Valley of Fear.
If Holmes is the official protagonist of the play, the character who drives the play’s parallel narrative is Jack McMurdo. Performed by Blake Kubena, McMurdo is a mysterious stranger, who upon visiting Vermissa Valley makes a point of ‘not letting the local law intimidate him’ and – after making a discreet hand gesture – is befriended by the accountant of the local ‘lodge’. But if this sounds very much like the Freemasons, what the ‘Scowrers’ have McMurdo doing is more akin to the antics of the contemporaneous Boardwalk Empire.
While McMurdo’s circumstances address corruption at a systemic level and public versus private ‘morality’, Holmes’ half of the tale deals with the familiar tropes of extrapolating ‘facts’ and hypotheses from conflicting accounts, and making sense of the ‘impossible’.
As a side note, archnemesis Moriarty is referenced in the play, but as a shadowy figure manipulating events behind the scenes. But what is most telling is Watson’s reaction. Firstly his disbelief that someone ‘cultured’ and a ‘gentleman’ such as Moriarty could be a criminal (a revolutionary notion at the time the original novel was written). Secondly, the realisation that exposing the secret agenda of the rich and powerful puts a target on yourself and your loved ones. Suddenly being associated with a world-famous sleuth is not as appealing as it used to be…
© Michael Davis 2022
Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear tours the UK at the following venues and dates:
8th – 9th Nov: The Drill, Lincoln
Freeschool Lane, Lincoln, LN2 1EY
10th – 12th Nov: Lyceum, Crewe
Heath Street, Crewe, CW1 2DA
14th – 15th Nov: Royal Spa Centre, Leamington Spa
Newbold Terrace, Leamington Spa, CV32 4HN
16th – 17th Nov: The Castle Theatre, Wellingborough
Castle Way, Wellingborough, NN8 1XA
21st – 23rd Nov: Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton
Wulfruna Street, Wolverhampton, WV1 1SE
24th – 26th Nov: Viaduct Theatre, Halifax
Dean Clough Mills, Dean Clough, Halifax HX3 5AX
It is also available to watch online on demand at: https://blackeyedtheatre.ticketco.events/uk/en/e/sherlock_holmes_the_valley_of_fear