It would be unfair to compare Potted Sherlock to its Potted counterparts Panto and, most famously, Potter so I won’t (but if I were to I’d say that Potted Potter is slicker, wittier and generally superior). The family genre is a difficult one to balance, catapulting child-friendly gags and silliness to the audience sliced with witty jibes for the grown-ups. The double act creators and performers Dan Clarkson and Jeff Turner have mastered this balance so perfectly before that hopes were high. In fairness, they were squeezing all 60 of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories into a very tight 70 minutes and the audience, predominantly made up of school groups, howled with laughter throughout. Characters changing at the speed of sound, airborne wigs, water pistols, a talking picture, capes, snakes, even a dog on wheels, all banded about the stage in the name of frantic farce. It’s hard not to get carried along for the ride culminating in a breathless, laughter-fuelled exhaustion. 70 minutes have never flown so fast.
The Potted double act has become a triple act with the addition of Lizzie Wort, who added a new dimension to the performance, bringing a sense of musicality and renewed feistiness to the dynamic, revitalising Clarkson and Turner’s ten-year stage marriage. The way Wort presented her characters was with a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed vigour that teetered and over-balanced between refreshing and patronising.
The Victorian set was charming and the characters in their, equally charming, double-breasted suits seemed to move around it circularly and fluidly as if they were on a never-ending stopwatch, maintaining the pace and the farce along with it.
If I could take a step-back and appreciate Potted Sherlock as an energised, reimagined take on pantomime I would. And I would do so in all its glory, all three actors flying by the seats of their pants, silliness erupting from their every move and they enjoying every second of it. But I felt it was missing something, I was left hungry for humour; they’d given me tasters of wit mocking Moriarty as a ‘minor sub character’, referenced the use of a living dog to test for a poison pill and mocked Conan Doyle’s boredom of the character he’d created. I wanted so much more of that: the Potted team had researched every inch of Sherlock Holmes and I desperately wanted that to be reflected in intelligent one-liners dotted around the mayhem of the farce. Preferably instead of the perpetually resurfacing faux bickers amongst themselves about who should play who next and how stupid Clarkson is. Potted can manipulate that genre, form and stage time any way they want to with their bubbling-over charisma and funny bones, it just jarred with me on this occasion, but one thing’s for sure – the kids loved it!
Potted Sherlock is playing the Vaudeville Theatre until 11 January 2015. For more information and tickets see the Nimax Theatres website. Photo by Geraint Lewis.