Bringing Sherlock Holmes to the stage

Sign of Four
Sign of Four

Luke Barton admits he’s feeling the pressure as he steps into the Sherlock Holmes shoes. They are huge shoes to fill.

“It is such a major role. Everybody has got their own idea of the character, regardless of whether they are thinking of the TV programme or the film versions. So many people will know the stories from having read them, and everyone has got their own idea of Sherlock Holmes.

“And so have I, and I think I just have to go with the idea that I have got from going back to the original Conan Doyle book.”

Luke is touring in a new stage version of The Sign of Four. Blackeyed Theatre are touring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s epic second Sherlock Holmes novel to Portsmouth’s New Theatre Royal (November 15-17, tickets on 023 9264 9000).

In the play, when Mary Morstan arrives at Baker Street to request help following the mysterious disappearance of her father, Sherlock Holmes and his companion Dr Watson are plunged into a murky world of deception and a complex plot involving murder, corruption and stolen jewels.

“I think for this,” Luke says, “I am trying to forget all the other interpretations of Sherlock Holmes, the Benedict Cumberbatch, the Robert Downey Jnr. I just want to go back to the book and see what Conan Doyle says about him in the book – and almost even forget the other Sherlock Holmes books and stories. This is only the second book in the series, and we are still learning about him. It is still early in his relationship with Watson.

“The recurring description of him seems to be of him as this machine, this automaton, this rational being that comes to life when he is given a problem to solve. At the beginning, we see him bored out of his head and resorting to drugs. For him, normal life is just boring. He is just ‘I am going to wait here until I have got a crime to solve and then I am going to launch into it.’

“I am finding him challenging to play, even more challenging than I thought he was going to be. I had a clear idea, but until you really get into him, you just don’t realise how odd and how strange he is as a person. He is fictional, of course. But he just does not want to do anything unless there is a problem to be solved, unless he has brain work to do, and that is what he craves all the time.

“And he is so unemotional. As an actor we try to understand actions by digging out their emotional core and connecting that with what we have ourselves and if there is anything in our own experience as human beings that we can bring to it. But Sherlock makes that quite tough. He keeps reminding Watson that he is not interested in the emotions.

“But I think I have got to explore him from the fact that he is not a machine, he is not an automaton: he is a human being. I am interested in how he has suppressed those emotions. In the book Mary Morstan is introduced and there is a love interest for Watson in the subplot, but Sherlock says that he likes Mary, that he approves of Mary, but he can’t support the idea of marrying her or loving her because that would entail love and the emotional side then gets in the way of everything. He says that he would never marry ‘lest it should bias judgement.’

“With another character you might explore what has made him that way, but for Sherlock it is about the futility of the emotions.”

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