|As Sherlock Treads the Boards of the Tabard|
Gabriella La Rocca discovers something about author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sherlock Holmes and his incessant appetite for analysis, observation and deduction are nothing new. We know what goes on at 221B Baker Street, we are far too familiar with Mrs Hudson, Watson, ‘the woman’ (Irene Adler), Professor Moriarty and the local inspector he ridicules.
Still in this play we discover something new, and it is not about Holmes. The spotlight, this time is on the writer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - the magnifying glass finds the challenges and all the torturous moments he endures every time he pens his character.
Frustration and contempt develop every time the author conceives more of Holmes. ‘I am tired of the penny grabbing detective tales’, says Conan Doyle – the Edinburgh accent well delivered by Roger Llewellyn; but is it a writer’s curse when the characters dominate the author’s life? Somerset Maugham observed: ‘A character in a writer’s head, unwritten, remains a possession....But once the character is down on paper, it belongs to the writer no more.’
For Conan Doyle the detective is like a rich fois gras he had too much of and was incredibly sick, he would prefer to concentrate on historical fiction that, he thinks, would probably give him more literary recognition. This is when the playwright David Stuart Davies explores the relationship of the author and his creations, providing an insightful, possibly destructive conversation between Holmes and Moriarty about the author.
We do see Holmes shivering for the first time as he confronts his murderer, but when he returns to life, his arrogance is burning even more as he reminds his creator that he could never destroy him because he knows the writer’s mind far too well in all its intrinsic ways of working.
While some revealing chapters of Conan Doyle’s life are introduced, the blurry line between the author and his character becomes incredibly clear, and you cannot help thinking of Somerset Maugham once again when he said: ‘For all the characters that we create are but copies of ourselves. It may be of course also that they really are nobler, more disinterested, more virtuous, and spiritual than I.’
Llewellyn knows what to do with Holmes on stage but he is refreshing as Conan Doyle and perhaps this is a new channel to discover more of Holmes. One thing is clear - this play reaffirms our own incessant appetite for the great detective who continued to live regardless of a well mastered attempt on his life.
Gabriella La Rocca
November 28, 2008