SUPERBLY SILLY BUT FAR FROM ELEMENTARY
In a beguiling 221b Baker Street set, referencing clockwork and tyrannized over by a brassbound Victorian video-countdown, Watson is talking to a portrait on the wall. The actor playing Moriarty is confused and comes on doing Mariachi, when he isn’t being Irene Adler in a baggy nude onesie with fig-leaves, Mrs Hudson, or twenty people in one minute. Or just annoying his stage partner, as they struggle to relate or perform all the 60 Sherlock Holmes stories in 80 minutes ( (there’s an interval, for youthful ice-cream and loo breaks, so it runs 100).
A cheerful seasonal habit has West End theatres – this one is home to the ROH Wind in the Willows – sharing the day with larky shows for children and their weary minders, at decently lower prices and with charity buckets at the door. Ir provides a great introduction to plush-seat theatre for the young. This one marks the return of Dan and Jeff – Daniel Clarkson and Jeff Turner – whose “Potted Potter” assault on the entire Rowling canon in 80 minutes got even the New York Times cooing, and whose Potted Panto had even a Christmas-jaded Times critic (me) saying “Cheap, cheerful, deafening if you’re surrounded by ten-year-olds, but not dumb. “
That’s the key here too. The pair may be CBBC stars, and they certainly know how to throw you a mercilessly childish gag, but with co-writer Tom Clarkson and the sharp no-prisoners direction of Hanna Berrigan, they never become lazy but stay precise, clever, quick, and layered. Dan’s amiable-idiot mugging delights the kids (screeeaaaam!) but is never allowed to go on long enough to annoy the parents. Outbreaks of puppetry, vaudeville joke dances and a moment of conjuring keep it fresh: although its very theme is rush, the pacing is craftily slow-quick-slow, which works.
. And – we Holmesians being sophisticated types – the rapid drollery is peppered not only with sudden silly bumblebee or Batman costumes but grownup (if always clean) gags about things like Uber. And, of course, the running gag about absurd resolutions of Conan Doyle riddles. Oh come on: even ardent Sherlockians must admit that it is the Victorian fog, the personal eccentricity and atmospheric writing that carries such nonsenses as the Speckled Band or the bit where they poison next-door’s dog.
For this show they are joined by Lizzie Wort (after a lot of meta-theatrical argument about how the hell she horned in on the boys’ show). She is both a suitable hat-swopping quickfire comedienne and no mean singer, and I hope the three join up together again. And curiously – though technically this show consists of sixty high-speed spoilers – its real affection for old Sherl shines through so strongly that I am going to start re-reading. The real ones, that is: not the hipster Cumberbatchery.
box office 0844 482 9675 to 11 Jan