There is a decent mystery to solve, but that is not the main appeal of this stunning production. The how and why are more interesting than the who: with only eight characters, one of whom is dead and another of whom is unjustly accused, identifying the villain is not too difficult on the assumption that choosing Dr Watson or Inspector Lestrade would be a cheat of more than Mousetrap proportions!
The mystery is how national secrets, transmitted in an uncrackable code invented by Holmes’ brother Mycroft, could have reached an enemy and resulted in the death of a British diplomat. Mycroft is arrested and Holmes comes out of retirement to attempt to save him from the gallows. Some suggest it could only be magic – cue a series of wonderfully convincing special effects (magic consultant Scott Penrose).
Nikolai Foster’s production sets a cracking pace and draws some larger than life performances that mostly stop short of caricature, though all exploit the implied sub-text of 21st century irony expertly. Jason Durr brings out Holmes’ vanity and depressive tendencies, paces his performance beautifully and forms a delightful and rather touching brother act with Adrian Lukis’ myopically self-absorbed Mycroft. Andrew Hall’s brisk, sympathetic and frequently assertive Dr Watson is the antidote to all the doltish subversions of the character over the years. Victor McGuire makes the most of the deliberately anachronistic words and phrases given to Lestrade and carries off the part with bluff assurance. As Irene Adler (the only woman Holmes admired) Tanya Franks is suitably enigmatic: in her one appearance in a Conan Doyle story, Adler is an adventuress and mistress of disguise and here, helping Holmes, she is elegant and coarse, refined and sexy by turn. Andrew Langtree’s Journalist is allowed to topple over into caricature and does it very well, and Kerry Peers and John Catterall complete a fine ensemble cast.
Michael Taylor’s designs are hugely impressive, with a Gustave Dore background of Victorian London and various locales and rooms trucked in or revolved into. Ben Cracknell (lighting), Mic Pool (sound) and Grant Olding (composer) intensify the drama mightily. Simultaneously compelling and comic, The Best Kept Secret gradually emerges from a classic London pea-souper!
Sherlock Holmes – The Best Kept Secret runs at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until 8 June. For further information visit www.wyp.org.uk