01/06/2010. Contributed by Sue Davies
pub: Big Finish. 2 CDs 120 minutes. Price: CD: £14.99 (UK), download: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84435-456-6)cast: Nicholas Briggs, Richard Earl, India Fisher, Lex Shrapnel, Samuel Clemens, Matt Addis, Ian Brooker, Beth Chalmers, David Peart and John Banks.
check out web site www.BigFinish.com
If you want an idiosyncratic detective try the original Sherlock Holmes. He's been lurking a long time. Often seen in profile in his trademark deerstalker and ever ready to solve a case. There is no end to his manifestations and his character must be one of the best used in all sorts of media. I looked up a list of actors who have played Sherlock and it seems it's a bit like doing Hamlet or Lear. You've either got a Holmes to go to-or not.
'Sherlock Holmes And The Ripper' is an original stage play by Brian Clemens. Best know for his many 'Avengers', Clemens scripts, also wrote a very successful series of plays for ITV in the mid 70s know collectively as 'Thriller'. I can personal vouch for the sleepless nights those plays gave me. This time he turned his attention to the Jack the Ripper case and imagined how the famous but alas, fictional, detective would have tackled it. The play is based around well-known theories about who the Ripper was so there are no new facts are presented here. Instead, Clemens inserts Holmes into a suitably gothic setting and given the author Arthur Conan Doyle's pre-occupation with spiritualism uses to good effect the very deep-voiced and breathy medium Mrs Katherine Read (voiced by India Fisher) as a way into the mystery.
This is the traditional play with some luvverly cockerney accents to start with which might lead you into thinking it is turning into the Victorian 'Eastenders'. Luckily, it soon sinks into the scary soup of the thriller. As the scene changes, we meet Holmes already stalking in the gloom outside a Masonic Ladies Evening, there's no lady with him and thereby hangs another tale. With a hint of revolt in the air of London, Holmes discusses democracy with Assistant Commissioner Anderson of Scotland Yard. He brings up the Ripper murders as intimation that Anderson might invite him to assist. Instead, Holmes is surprised to be re-buffed, which of course makes him more curious especially as he expects better from a brother Mason.
When Holmes meets the almost asthmatic Katherine Read, she warns him to expect a visit from an unknown man and he should depart at once. Although sceptical, he takes her advice and later that night finds himself face to face with an escaped lunatic who may be more than he appears. Before long, Holmes and Watson are deeply involved in the mystery of the Ripper murders.
Once again, we have a moustache-twirling, cloak swirling highly visual spectacle. Within the confines of our ears, we can recreate the atmosphere of the miasma of London with all the gory detail of the murders spelt out to us.
The double-act of Holmes and Watson works well. As played by Nick Briggs, Holmes is precise, thoughtful and full of tonal variety. Watson is as waspish and enthusiastic ex-military man and as played by Richard Earl recalls the BBC radio Holmes stories and Michael Williams' Dr Watson.
Although this all feels familiar and comfortable, I think the performances of the entire cast put a fresh slant on what could now be a well-known plot. Somehow on audio, it feels more exciting. Happily, the play does not linger on the dreadful crimes too long as its only the distance from them that makes this acceptable. Sadly, crimes against women are often used to make questionable drama. This at least is based on known facts about the crimes themselves and a theoretical proposition about who the killer might be. At least the author, through Watson, does point out these victims were not just prostitutes but women who deserved better.
On a lighter note, there are some witty lines from Holmes, 'I regard a bush as something to decorate a garden rather than beat around,' and this lightness does stop the play from sinking into too much darkness.
Of course, the ending can never be satisfactory as it's un-provable and joins the ranks of other fantastic and sometimes high profile suggestions. If you go to www.met.police.uk, you can read their own list of potentials which in no way bears any resemblance to those proposed in fiction. In this version, the denouement is chilling and is tempered by wrapping up the story with that of Holmes and Watson giving it a warmer human interest element to take away.
Overall, although it feels clichéd in places, this is a great stab at a now classic story that is most enjoyable. The company put on a good show and as the red curtain comes, there is a tiny wisp of the London smog still in the noses of the audience.
A cracking tale indeed and with more Holmes stories to come this year, this could prove to be the year of the deerstalker. Subscribers to the three Holmes audios also receive a bonus one hour audio of the story of 'The Speckled Band'. This is read by Watson with vocal interjections by Holmes.
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