There are few double acts which are as instantly recognisable as Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson. As a classic crime-solving duo there have been many incarnates and currently they can be found in Arthur Conan Doyle’s hometown of Edinburgh being played by Nigel Miles-Thomas (Holmes) and Michael Roy Andrew (Watson) in their performance of The Return of Sherlock Holmes.
Miles-Thomas and Roy Andrew are exactly who you would expect to meet as Holmes and Watson. Individually the characters have been well developed and the audience soon discover they were very loyal to the original characters. However, within the interaction between characters there seems a stilted repartee. After the show ends Miles-Thomas personally thanks the audience and says that it had been mostly rehearsed over Zoom, and this disturbed (thanks COVID) preparation shows in this unease between the characters.
The Return of Sherlock Holmes as a novel was a product of immense pressure on Conan Doyle to resurrect his most famous character, and as such is a tale which leans on previous stories more than others. For the play, it requires a prior knowledge of some of the story of Sherlock Holmes otherwise the audience can soon become a little lost. Given that there are a wide range of Sherlock Holmes adventures which are accessible without knowing the backstory, there’s a natural question over why this was story chosen despite this obstacle.
The beginning of the show feels laboured and drags a little, which perhaps results in the ending coming up short with a conclusion that feels short and quite confusing. Typically, Sherlock relishes telling Watson exactly how clever he is and explaining the solution for this tough conundrum, but against the squeezed timescale with a lack of context for the audience, it feels forced and out of place.
Tech during Fringe time is always difficult – transforming normal spaces into makeshift theatre spaces for the month of August. As such, to have a fully blacked out venue can be difficult, but in this case the solution is “elementary” – the application of tinfoil to the windows works to an extent, but the rattle of it against the window due to people passing distracts from the performance. Unfortunately, other technical aspects also left something to be desired. There is a specific whispering sound cue which is mysterious and promising however it doesn’t really materialise to a strong place within the piece. Roy Andrew is ultimately drowned out by the sound – fade ins and fade outs would make a world of difference as it feels like they were all played at the same level, and as such become one tone. In short, it is a case of right sounds, wrong timings.
Overall, this is the epitome of Fringe vs Pandemic. Both Miles-Thomas and Roy Andrew bring their characters to life as Conan Doyle wrote them, but seem to feel unease on stage together, with technical issues no doubt also owing to a rushed preparation. Given this duo’s past success at the Fringe, we can be confident that with more rehearsal together the performance would be far more captivating. At the end of the show, Miles-Thomas also informs the audience that additional slots have been made available for booking – it would be no surprise to see this performance improve as the Fringe develops, as the team rekindles their dynamism and shakes off the rust.
The Return of Sherlock Holmes is playing at the Dining Room, Teviot until 29 August 2021. For more information and tickets, see Gilded Balloon’s website.