A Sherlock Carol ★★★

A Sherlock Carol sees two 19th century literary icons sharing the stage in an intriguing retelling of the timeless Christmas tale of redemption.

One of the most expected traditions of Christmas are the seemingly endless productions of A Christmas Carol appearing in theatres across the land. If you are suffering a bit of Humbug-fatigue, A Sherlock Carol comes as a welcome twist on the perennial Christmas story.

Mark Shanahan’s show mixes the worlds of Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle together in a Festive mystery with some rather familiar characters. It’s a cute idea with a lot of appeal.

It takes as a starting point the bare bones of Dickens’ classic redemption story. At the start, Holmes is a broken man following the death of his nemesis Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls. Bellowing “Bah!” at anyone who tries to assuage his mood, he alienates his friend Doctor Watson and becomes a melancholic, solitary figure. This Holmes is haunted by a sense of purposeless without his arch enemy to challenge his interest. 

All images by Danny Kaan

To that, it mixes through a Conan Doyle mystery. Initially Sherlock refuses to help perhaps the most famous Baker Street Irregular who has been arrested for theft, but a certain Doctor Timothy Cratchit (yes, it’s Tiny Tim all grown up) manages to pique the detective’s interest. His benefactor Ebenezer Scrooge, whose transformation into a kind, generous man has sustained, has been killed and his will is missing.  Beginning with a locked room murder, it expands into a mystery caper spread across all of London.

Rather than being greater than the sum of its parts, A Sherlock Carol ends up being not quite enough of either.

While Ben Caplan plays the Great Detective fairly straight, the remaining cast of five performers play a vast array of Dickens and Doyle characters with increasingly wide comic brushstrokes. Kammy Darweish, Rosie Armstrong, Richard James, Gemma Laurie and especially Damian Lynch play a multitude of likeable, larger than life characters. Tonally the piece veers wildly between fantastic grotesque comic creations carving the Christmas ham rather thick and a stubbornly morose Holmes with his introspection killing the buzz. It feels like they are in different productions, with mismatches in energy and pacing throughout. 

Credit must go to costume designer Linda Cho whose outfits capture suitably festive hues for late Victorian London. Milliner Kate Turner has certainly been kept busy with a variety of eye-catching bonnets and hats. Praise too is deserved by John Gromada whose sound design provides a suitable soundscape to the unfolding mystery. There’s something genuinely spooky as the echoes of Moriarty’s mocking Holmes travels around the auditorium.

The problem that A Sherlock Carol ultimately fails to resolve is, both in terms of writing and direction, it rarely fuses the distinct elements of Dickens and of Conan Doyle successfully. It feels as if there is a really enjoyable production waiting to emerge but a consistent feel and tempo need to be chosen. Given the audience responds very well to the colourful OTT characters and their humour, perhaps the show should be more of a romp, played at the speed of a good farce.

But maybe The Recs just hasn’t got into the Christmas spirit. It is certainly a warm-hearted production with a talented, enthusiastic cast.
Now excuse me, there appear to be three spirits knocking at my door.

A Dickens – Doyle mash-up is afoot but the show gets lost somewhere in the London fog –  ★★ (3 stars)

A Sherlock Carol Tickets

A Sherlock Carol plays at the Marylebone Theatre until 7 January 2023

Book Tickets