Written by Arthur Conan Doyle
Adapted by Lesley Hart
Directed by Marc Small
Everything seems by the books: the Deer stalkers, the accent and delivery, the corpse located near a scrawled ‘RACHE’ – that is, until we note the Ketchup blood stains. We dare say it to be Elementary of sorts, in what at first unfolds like a traditional replication of A Study in Scarlet, Lesley Hart’s adaptation takes a twist as this two-hand production unearths the limitations of grasping narrative and mortality.
In the glimmering sun of the Pitlochry Amphitheatre, Arthur Conan Doyle’s first outing for Sherlock Holmes takes an engaging, if stumbling turn in Hart’s Sherlock Holmes: Lipstick, Ketchup & Blood as our principal concerns lie not with the story itself, but with the performers taking on the role of Sherlock and, after some negotiation, Watson.
Ash and Harry have performed this particular set for a while now, and Ash, a Doctor, wants to take on the role of Watson, and it’s nearing their 200th performance, but no matter how often they don the grab of the Baker Street boys, there’s always something off about the show.
In the openness of the Pitlochry Amphitheatre, Marc Small’s direction manages to carry a simplicity with the production, reinforcing the adaptive nature with which Tom Richardson and Deirdre Davis must adapt with limited props, space and, well, cast. It forces the audience into confrontation as the narrative unwinds and tensions arise between the pair – with nowhere to go, the frustrations grow, but so too do the concerns for Harry’s (Davis’) health.
Determined to unravel something unique within the niggles and curiosities of the original tale, leaning into the witty puzzle aspects of Hart’s adaptation, Davis toys with the vain hope of unearthing something which will find meaning in their dwindling life. Ash, meanwhile, struggles to find reason in continuing the performances – even after stepping from ensemble into secondary protagonist. Richardson’s physicality is explosive, particularly for a short play, shifting from corpse to coachman, and back to Watson with dedicated pacing.
But outwith the physical presence of two fine performances, the scarlet threads of Holme’s case unravelled. The blood-related illness attacking Harry and Ash’s former professional as a haematologist all present themselves with a connection in Hart’s eyes – but if there is one to be drawn from the allegorical usages and the links of mortality and unravelling narrative, it’s a touch too subtle for an hour’s production. Hart’s writing asks audiences to do a spell of legwork, evoking Holme’s own cries for them to observe and not merely see, but even Holmes himself would struggle in tying this all together.
But still, crikey, this is a unique and touching variant of the traditional story, a much loved and rehashed tale which finds a sense of freshness amongst the open skies of the Amphitheatre. And with adaptations like Hart’s, irrespective of chances taken and frayed edges, there’s little wonder to the longevity of Conan Doyle’s consulting detective, on forging the partnership Holmes and Watson shared, where the only real crime committed is by those foolish enough not to pay a visit to Baker Street (via Perthshire).
‘Touching Variant, With a Few Loose Threads’
Sherlock Holmes: A Study in Lipstick, Ketchup and Blood runs at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre until July 7th.
Tickets for which may be obtained here.
Photo Credit – Fraser Band