Musical ticks Sustainability and Inclusivity Boxes!
“Telling the Truth, Taking Action and focussing on Justice in what we do. “
“The Child inside me died because everything I tried was never enough.”
The Watermill Theatre in Newbury is starting to come to terms with the complete loss of Arts Council Funding and although they do have the support of various charitable Trusts, times are hard. On a brighter note, they have recently been crowned joint winner of Theatre of the Year at The Stage Awards 2024 and have announced an interesting line up of shows for the rest of the year.
The theatre itself on the banks of the river Lambourn still has the frame of the old watermill and on a rainy night as we walked to the theatre we could see the power of the rushing water under the wheel and feel the excitement. I came with some optimism to see Sherlock Holmes and the Poisoned Wood, billed as a rock musical. Sherlock Holmes must be one of the most enduring characters in theatre, film and comedy.
In the 1970s I knew the editor of the house magazine for the Abbey National Building Society, the then Head Office of which encompassed what would have been 221B Baker Street. She was tasked with writing replies to the many letters that came each year addressed to Sherlock Holmes and usually explained that he was out of the country abroad.
Sherlock Holmes and the Poisoned Wood is set in 2024 and the production opens with Holmes (Connor Bannister) sitting on a table playing an electric guitar. His landlady, a nutritionist with a PhD, Dr Amanda Watson (Me’sha Bryan) brings him a cup of tea and biscuits which form a running joke throughout the show. As you might expect there is a major puzzle for Sherlock (Dylan Wood) to solve, but this time alongside his partner Dr Watson, an affable and likeable character. Thank goodness we had a delicious supper in the theatre’s Riverside Restaurant before the show or the references to biscuits and doughnuts might have been challenging.
The set is simple with doors, tables and chairs moved round to create the various scenes and all of the materials are recycled and or will be to other sets or other uses. Projections will underline the themes. What is unusual are the permanent surtitled captions for the hard of hearing, listing the lyrics, speech and sound effects. This is a part of the inclusivity of Metta Theatre’s mission. This production supports non-binary, neurodiverse and disabled actors and creatives. To either side of the stage are small areas for the band who are also all members of the cast. This allows the participation of these actor-musicians onto the stage as the musical progresses. Thinking about it, Sherlock Holmes must be included as a neuro-diverse genius.
The music by Ben Glasstone is original, not of the heavy rock variety, but middle of the road, catchy, fun and strongly sung with lots of guitar accompaniment. The powerful lyrics moving the plot along are by Glasstone and Book Author and Director P Burton-Morgan giving the opportunity to introduce recurring themes such as the much used “Elementary”, “The Truth” and “Control”. The play is an environmentalist’s joy with themes of pollution and big business contempt of the little people satirised. Holmes and Watson will be subjected to undeserved abuse from social media.
Moriarty as ever is the villainess but here in a female incarnation as Jan Moriarty (Gillian Kirkpatrick) a powerful businesswoman seeking to control the global biosphere, starting by poisoning the wood. Moriarty’s daughter is Yorri Tramaly (EM Williams) a troubled soul, non binary trying to recover from their maternal abuse, they is the character who will engage the audience emotionally. Inspector Lestrade (Richard P Perralta) will rely on Holmes and Watson’s cany sleuthing. There are enough references to satisfy expert Conan Doyle fans.
When I visited The Watermill last summer two Muscovy Ducks with their brilliant plumage were in residence. I loved EM Williams mentioning them in the theatre programme. Scroll down.
The song “Never Enough” is a hate song against Mothers but later some of the blame game against those that bore them is softened. The lyrics are bang up to date with references to algorithms and the Mycorrhizal Network. Thank goodness we have captions to spell Mycorrhizal!
I think the music will stand up well to repeat listening and You Tube Has the song “Elementary”.
The Joy on My Tongue
The Truth (Reprise)
The One (Reprise)
The Pain in My Tum
The Game is Afoot
Sherlock Holmes and the Poisoned Wood
Book and Lyrics by P Burton-Morgan
Music and Lyrics by Ben Glasstone
Directed by P Burton-Morgan
Richard R Peralta
Director: P Burton-Morgan
Choreographer: Mark Smith
Set Designer and Lighting
Designer: William Reynolds
Costume Designer: Hannah Gilbert
Musical Supervisor: Jaime Ross
Orchestrations: Ben Glasstone
Sound Designer: Beth Duke
Video and Projection: Matt Powell
Musical Director: Dan Glover
Running Time: Two hours 10 minutes including the interval
Booking until 16th March 2024
Box Office: 01635 46044
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge
at the Watermill Theatre
on 6th February 2024