The Mystery of the Valkyrie
In the glossy and elegant programme for The Mystery of the Valkyrie, producer Alex Woodward talks about his passion for “gateway theatre” where artistic integrity is maintained at the same time as reaching non-theatre-going public, as well as seasoned patrons. The fact that he has succeeded - so brilliantly in this case - is due mainly to the artistic vision he has shared with writer/director Michael Futcher.
Futcher’s excellent script doesn’t give us “just another Sherlock Holmes story”, nor does it pander to non-theatre goers in language or context. It plays for its own truth and is connected both to the times of Conan Doyle and our contemporary world, playing seamlessly alongside each other. Thus the new story – about a deadly pathogen created in a laboratory (read Covid) and an anti-toxin that can save millions (read vaccination) being at the hands of Moriarty and political cohorts (pick a name, any name from a variety of international politicians) is immediately accessible to all of us. Written during the pandemic, it resonates with the present and the future. It’s intelligent, witty, and shows a genuine love of language. As a writer, it was a delight for me. And while it is not a spoof, in the way that, say, The 39 Steps has become, there is wit, whimsy and even plenty of laugh out loud moments to satisfy everyone. Not an easy task.
You can’t make a good play out of a bad script – but you can enhance a good script with the right cast. Eugene Gilfedder is an absolute delight as Holmes. Because of the Gothic nature of the story, he plays Holmes LARGE - a man who owns and controls the narrative once he becomes engaged. It could have been too broad, close to melodrama, but Gilfedder allows us to see the flaws in the man, and the weight of being a captive to one’s own brilliance. It’s a beautifully crafted performance, full of subtle nuance.
As Dr Watson, Anthony Gooley is less the somewhat bumbling sidekick and more the loyal friend, determined to protect Sherlock from himself at all costs, even his marriage. Gooley manages to marry humble normalcy with honour and nobility in his commitment to Holmes as the better mind, if not necessarily the better man. It was a pleasure to watch two terrific actors play against (and with) each other.
Kimie Tsukakoshi is a lovely young actress but, for me personally, she lacked the authority to make Irene Adler a worthy adversary for Holmes. Her acting style may be too modern for the play as it stands, but there were scenes where I felt she needed more command.
The same could be said for Bryan Probets as Moriarty. Futcher has daringly given Moriarty and Holmes a number of scenes together, and it would have been good if Moriarty had demonstrated, even through sheer charisma, that he was Holmes’ equal. If not charisma then at least a stronger sense of malice would have helped. However, he is wonderfully entertaining in his other role as Ames.
Helen Cassidy makes a delicious meal of Inspector MacDonald and Darcy Brown is impressive as Mycroft - though he looks considerably younger than Sherlock (when in fact he is Sherlock’s senior by 7 years). The rest of the cast is excellent and Futcher’s direction is worthy of his script. The pace is frenetic with actors choreographed carefully, and every move counting, whilst the plot is advancing. But then, where there are moments when the audience simply HAS to listen, he freezes them in a line upstage…or brings them downstage into pin spots so that we quickly understand we need to pay close attention.
But none of this would work without the totally astonishing work of the technical crew. Craig Wilkinson’s video footage is remarkable and truly deserves awards as well as accolades. His cinematic POV is integral to the storytelling. Isabel Hudson’s set design Is simple and yet the technical skills involved in the number of set pieces on trucks that spin and swirl, almost peripatetic, is just mind-blowing. David Walters’ lighting is superb, evocative and atmospheric. Phil Slade’s sound and music are vital in making this such an excellent production. Dan Venz and Andy Fraser have handled the seemingly chaotic movement and fight scenes seamlessly and are a vital part of the equation.
There are minor faults. The first act could do with about a ten minute trim and the necessary exposition could be tightened somewhat, and it was only when we returned to Watson on the steps talking to the crowd, late in Act 2, that many of the audience, myself included, realised the flashback element. But these are minor things. And although this short season ends today, we must think of this merely as a try-out. The show is bound to have many seasons nationally, and I believe it could break through internationally. That might mean pushing the SFX even harder to the point of having the audience gasping out loud (oh how I would have loved to see them go over those falls) to make it to Broadway or the West End, but this production is worth all the success it can garner.
It was a treat, and that’s rare in theatre these days.
Photographer: Joel Devereux