It has to be said that I rarely go to the theatre. That’s “rarely”, as in twice in the past six years (and that was to “‘Allo ‘Allo” and a university charity show). However, when a friend of mine got tickets for a preview of “Sherlock Holmes – the Musical” at the Cambridge Theatre in London, I thought it might be fun to go along, not least becasue at a cost of 2.50, I had nothing to lose. To me, ‘musical’ is inexorably linked to things like “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” so I wasn’t expecting too much – I must admit that I enjoyed myself more than I though I would.
It stars Ron Moody, famous for playing Fagin in “Oliver!”, as the great detective and starts just after his battle with Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls. He returns to London, where Bella, the Professor’s daughter, has worked out a fiendish plan to incriminate Sherlock Holmes in a ‘orrible murder. This, basically, is the plot. Around this are arranged about 20 musical bits and a few standard Holmes jokes – the disguises, the displays of deductive power etc. Not an awful lot to go on, especially when the music is not the sort I’d normally listen to.
On the plus side, we have the atmosphere of the theatre. It’s like the difference between watching live football and a match on the telly – I can’t be any more explicit than that. Ron Moody is quite excellent as Sherlock, showing real stage presence; most of the other actors are also good. The sets were impressive and the scenery changes extremely slick and a lot less noticeable than this cinefreak expected. Even the songs were ok, as long as there was an accompanying dance routine or something else interesting – when it was just one singer standing in the centre of the stage, it wasn’t too exciting.
The first half was noticeably better, probably thanks to the lower musical content, and a couple of scenes were well up to anything I’ve seen recently in a movie – the murder especially chilled the blood. Things did get a little dull in the second half, which was mostly songs, and ones we’d heard before too – it seemed noticeably shorter, though since the whole thing came in at about 2 1/2 hours including the interval, this is no bad thing.
Criticisms? I’m a very amateur theatregoer and can’t compare it with anything in order to say how good or bad it is. However, Liz Robertson seemed ill at ease when acting compared to the easy manner of Ron Moody and after a while, the continual cheerful Cockney chirpiness (rhyming slang, etc) begins to grate – perhaps the show is aimed at the coming summer tourist market. Nevertheless, I had a very entertaining evening for my 2.50 at this trash musical – whether it’s worth paying eight to twenty pounds for a ‘real’ seat, I’m not so sure.