(Original post at The Boar)
At the Edinburgh Fringe- that great festival into which all the actors and comedians of the world are irresistibly drained- there are more musicals than you could see in a week. Perhaps more surprisingly, there are a great many shows about Sherlock Holmes. Musical Theatre Warwick’s Holmes For Rent, an adaptation of Christian Blex’s German musical Sherlock H., is perhaps the only production that is both.
The story begins in a dilapidated theatre, as Doctor Watson (played by director Robin Kendall in the performance I saw) prepares to reveal a shocking secret. His ally and friend Sherlock Holmes (Rob Madge) is not a detective at all, but an out of work actor named Rich Brooks, hired by Watson to conceal his identity as the legendary mastermind. As the action unfolds, it becomes clear that Holmes is not the only character who is not who they claim to be…
Through flashback, we learn how the strained friendship of Holmes and Watson (or should that be Watson and Holmes?) unravelled in the face of a sinister plot. Holmes’ infatuation with Irene Adler (Emily Taylor), the daughter of a kidnapped jeweller, leaves him vulnerable to the machinations of Professor Moriarty and his henchwomen. The actor-turned-detective is forced to use his wits to discover the truth; the fate of his friends, the Queen, and even the Empire itself rest in his hands.
Rob Madge keeps Holmes a charismatic figure- you begin to understand why the police and the public alike are drawn to him, despite his obvious incompetence. He is a narcissist and a show-off, but remains likeable throughout. Madge has the difficult job of anchoring the whole production, but makes light work of his lengthy speeches, and his vocals are the highlight of the show.
Holmes for Rent is camp and self-referential- the musical is rich with jokes from the canon, as well as allusions to the many incarnations of Holmes that have proliferated over the years.
The meta-jokes and fourth wall breaks were earned, rather than gratuitous. There are eight possible endings to the show, each with a different Moriarty. I won’t spoil who was revealed as the Napoleon of Crime in the performance I saw, but I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome.
Holmes for Rent makes good use of some of Doyle’s most famous characters- Emily Taylor is among the strongest of the performers, and her Irene runs rings around the besotted Holmes. Lestrade (Glen Reynolds), Gregson (Oscar Street), and the inimitable Mrs Hudson (Kelly Slade) all make cameos, but it’s Slade who steals every scene she appears in.
It is an ambitious production, and with that ambition comes the occasional misstep. The condensed time frame does the show no favours, so events can feel rushed at times. Early in the musical’s run, small errors and misspoken lines are practically inevitable, and the kinks have not quite been ironed out.
These are trifles, but as Holmes himself said, there is nothing so important as trifles.
Aside from this, Holmes For Rent is a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend an hour. The mix of musical genres is wonderful- Victorian music hall is blended with operetta, barbershop, and tango at times, and paired with some fantastic choreography. Come at once, if convenient- if inconvenient, come all the same.