What happens, the play asks, when a fictional character becomes more powerful than its real-life creator?
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published the last ever Sherlock Holmes short story in 1893. In it, Sherlock dies by plunging into the Reichenbach Falls.
Conan Doyle hoped public attention would turn to his historical fiction and psychic research. He was wrong, but it was eight years before he brought Sherlock back to life for The Hound of the Baskervilles.
David Stuart Davies dramatises this famous story of the dispatch and resurrection of Holmes with an interesting twist.
Conan Doyle’s characters become aware they are fictional, work out they are in danger, and start to rebel against their author to protect themselves.
So far, so Afternoon Play, you might say, and you’d be right.
The play is an easy watch and sometimes descends into fan fiction-style overindulgence, but what’s wrong with that? In this case, the story doesn’t entirely live up to its idea and often feels like a radio play. In fact, the performance is available as an audio book.
An unsettling lack of attention to place makes the play even more ethereal. Actor Roger Llewellyn is at his weakest when interacting with the invisible world around him, talking through his ghostly companions at the audience and sometimes actually walking through them.
Llewellyn takes command of the range of characters, making the most of the humour in the script and the best of the less dramatic monologues. He has the air of someone very suited to giving staged readings of John Betjeman poetry, playing Sherlock with a warmth that contrasts with the stony portrayal by Benedict Cumberbatch.
A play’s highlight is its opening, in which the Editor of the Strand Magazine addresses its boardroom with terrible news. The audience become the executives of the magazine, and we are as concerned as they are that Sherlock must not be killed.