Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear review – Southwark Playhouse ★★★★☆

Photo: Simon Vail

Review by Natalie Evans

Back at the Southwark Playhouse, Blackeyed Theatre Company brings us their interpretation of the beloved Sherlock Holmes and his final adventure (that the books document at least). Within this tale, we travel from Baker Street all the way to Pennsylvania and back several times as we see the events unfold in the past while Holmes and Watson solve the mystery in the present.

The set changes, accompanied by a score that expertly encapsulated the Sherlockian atmosphere, were seamless. The actors were in exact harmony with each other (both in step and vocally as they sang), and they generally felt like a scene in and of themselves. 

Photo: Alex Harvey-Brown

Along the way, we meet many more characters than actors present in the company, calling for some good old-fashioned multi-rolling. It appears that this technique has been experiencing a resurgence in popularity recently and I must say I am absolutely here for it. In this particular example, Alice Osmanski was able to truly showcase her acting ability through her five roles – each with an entirely different persona, physicality, and accent. For this feat alone she deserves a commendation, but she also managed to present every on e with such specificity that I was never left guessing which was on stage at any given moment.

However, the standout scene for me was between Sherlock and Moriarty. With a palpable tension that left the whole room in a state of unease, the two actors skillfully played with the infamous power dynamic by portraying a simultaneous combination of nonchalance and intensity. Not to mention – a fantastic Irish accent from Gavin Molloy. 

Unfortunately, where I found the action fell down was the fight scenes as they just came across as over-staged. I appreciate safety is paramount when forming these sequences, but the extreme carefulness the actors were taking with one another wasn’t very well disguised, meaning that I didn’t quite believe the intent behind the movements – many of which were some of the more obvious and overused in a fight designer’s bank. 

Photo: Simon Vail

On a technical design point though, Oliver Welsh’s lighting was beautiful. Subtle and succinct in every transition, he very successfully transported us from place to place, mood to mood, and past to present with effortless efficiency. The simple but effective set design from Victoria Spearing was then a perfect complement to this in creating the overall aesthetic of the piece. Always placing exactly what was needed in the space, but never more, was a testament to both her excellent attention to detail, and how theatre can just as easily immerse an audience in a time and place without all the paraphernalia of an elaborate replica set, so long as you have the important items. 

In such a regard, this was a production for the true lovers of a classic Holmes story. The characters and narrative were familiar and exactly what you’d expect. So, while there was a certain lack of originality, I’d say this interpretation definitely did justice to the original source material with a very well executed theatrical retelling. 

Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear is at Southwark Playhouse, Borough until the 13th April 2024