Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and biographies of Conan Doyle have both been well represented in plays at bygone Fringes. However, Quids In Theatre Company’s Sherlock Holmes and the Conundrum of Conan Doyle asks the far more unusual and innovative question of what would happen if these two worlds met? While the play offers some memorable moments, it fails to reach a satisfying conclusion.
Set during a memorial service for Conan Doyle held by the Marylebone Spiritualist Association, Sherlock Holmes makes one final appearance to confront the author’s widow on his mystical beliefs. Refreshingly, the production succeeds at painting a balanced picture of the author’s life. By covering his advocacy for justice and rocky friendship with Harry Houdini, the play ensures audiences know there is much more to Conan Doyle than Holmes and spiritualism.
The most powerful sections of the play are the impassioned dialogues between Lady Conan Doyle and Holmes. Ardent proponents of spiritualism and the scientific method respectively, the two characters at loggerheads provide for entertaining, original theatre. The acting is consistently high quality throughout. The squirrelly performance of Sherlock Holmes stands out as both faithful and engaging, with a piercing intensity reminiscent of Basil Rathbone’s performance. Fans are sure to be entertained by Holmes’ characteristically sarcastic sense of humour. Lady Conan Doyle – grieving yet defiant – provides a perfect foil for Holmes’ intellect.
That said the other sections of the play struggle to offer much. Rather than adding to the immersion, the inclusion of voice-over readings and lesser-known hymns seriously breaks up the momentum of the play. The play’s climax similarly suffers by placing too much emphasis on the audience, making a key scene that could have been quite haunting slow-paced and bemusing.
The question of why the man who invented Sherlock Holmes believed in fairies and spirits is undoubtedly an interesting one. While Sherlock Holmes and the Conundrum of Conan Doyle provides some interesting probing of this idea, it does not have enough substance to its conclusion for it to feel complete yet.