by Chris Richards.
It is always a pleasure to visit the MAST in Southampton city centre. It has an intimate, simple and beautiful set up and the staff are always a friendly guide to theatre goers. This particular performance was no exception.
Each of the five actors in Sherlock Holmes, The Valley of Fear are perfectly cast, no matter which part they are playing. They each perform at least two roles, and each character is unique, making it is easy to forget there are so few.
Gavin Mallot listed in the program as playing six characters, and I did have to double-check the program to make absolutely sure that he did in fact do all six, is stellar. He ranges from the Scottish laid back and companionable Inspector McDonald, to the intensely wound, dangerously volatile Pennsylvanian ‘Black Jack’ McGinty, and to a devastatingly cold and calculating Irish Moriaty.
Luke Barton’s interpretation of Holmes steps deftly from Arthur Conan Doyle’s pages in both look and every quirk and manner. At one point Joe Derrington sits as a cringing, spectacled, Southern bookkeeper and whips off his eyewear and stands transformed as our narrator and well-loved, long suffering Dr Watson.
Alice Osmanski, the lone female of the troop, delighted the audience as the over-familiar and matriarchal Mrs Hudson, while chilling as the cold, imperious Mrs Ivy Douglas, hilarious as aged and hearing deprived Mrs Allen, and softened every heart as the beautiful and good Ettie Shafter.
I must admit my favourite performance came from the American actor Blake Kubena as the gun-toting handsome rogue with a heart of gold Texan, Jack McMurdo and the fussy, Sherlock-smitten English Detective White Mason.
Ensembled harmonious song is used to wonderful percussive effect as the players rearrange the stage. Tristan Parkes’ musical direction is flawless. Obviously the performances would be nothing without the fine and enhancing adaptation by Nick Lane. The abridged and slightly augmented version of Doyle’s story unfolded the action by flashing forward and back through time, sailing the audience seamlessly from mystery to context, keeping us all on the edge of our seat.
The sets were simple but quintessentially Sherlockian with William Morris wallpaper and mere chairs, tables, frames all arranged with subtle light changes clearly indicating time and place. Foggy cold England became dusty hot Pennsylvania by the sensitive lighting colours and consistent smoky dry ice from upstage.
I realise now, I never wondered who might be the characters on stage or in what time we were landed from scene to scene. The audience was guided by simple brilliance at every moment.
If you have any love for Holmes and Watson this is a play not to be missed, worth every moment of the two-hour experience.
Tickets are available from the Mayflower MAST Box Office and performances run until 4th February 2023. Make the time, you will not regret it.
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