Holmes and Watson: Something Different

Damon Calderwood , Gordon Roberts in Holmes & Watson, photographer Ryan Crocker

Holmes and Watson Save the Empire is a musical farce produced by First Impressions Theatre running in North Vancouver until March 16th. The writers Jahnna Beecham and Malcolm Hillgartner flew in from Oregon to direct the Canadian premiere of their script.

As advertised this is a genre piece, not for seriously intellectual Sherlock Holmes fans. The script is peppered with contemporary word play and the characters indulge in much pomp and silliness. The musical accompaniment is similarly tongue-in-cheek and for the most part the plot progresses with a light-hearted, energetic pace that will keep your feet tapping. The script was fun, but some of the refrains and dialogue became a bit repetitive. I find this is the case with many musicals, some dialogue acts as filler and there is almost always one chorus too many for my taste.

I loved the atmosphere created by the live musical accompaniment and sumptuous costumes and set. The performers committed fully to the slapstick nature of the piece with a brazen deadpan comic timing. Silly is great and I'm always up to see a man in a dress, but in order for a show to really pop there needs to be depth beneath the revelry. I don't feel that Calderwood (Holmes) or Roberts (Watson) connected to the humanity of the characters enough to flesh out the presentational trap of this genre. For example, a beautiful possibility for unveiling the depths of the characters beneath the jokes would have been the song about the duo's respective love interests, if that had been more serious and heartfelt, the snap back to slapstick with “Now, to the matter at hand” would have made more comedic sense. And without the depth of human feeling to support it, the excessive energy can become shrill instead of exciting.

Roberts as Watson had a consistency of character, although I felt that his conservative choices could have gone further to provide a foil for the effusive nature of Calderwood's Holmes. Calderwood has unlimited energy and when he is having fun on stage he is enigmatic to watch. When he isn't he has a tendency to push too hard and his character kept sliding around from Noel Coward-esque to crazy Irishman to bond villain, his accent along for the ride. Chris Robson in the short span of time we saw him playing the roles of Freddy Fish and the Pianist was poised, energetic and specific in execution.

Holmes and Watson Save the Empire is a light, if superficial, entertainment. The actors are fearless and committed, the music is rambunctious and the script is funny. Join this famous detective team until March 16th in their quest to unravel Victoria's secret.

By Danielle Benzon