The Sign of Four Review

Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough – until 1st June 2019

Reviewed by Sara Garner


Adapted and directed by Nick Lane. This is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s second full length novel and so finds a youthful Holmes and Watson early on in their friendship.

Nick Lane himself says that he didn’t want Holmes to be presented as a pastiche. From the start we focus not on Holmes’s eccentricities, but instead allow his portrayal in a much more serious way. This includes his use of narcotics during the first scene, and a superb example of ingenious deductive reasoning.

Watson and Holmes are introduced together and during this scene Watson turns occasionally to the audience to provide some narration. These small bits of narrative provides some cohesion to the story which helps the flow of the story line

The story moves from location to location, using the same superb set, designed by Victoria Spearing, which is moved around by the actors to great effect. Occasionally just the slightest move of a piece of set provides a visual illusion of a particular setting.

Several of the actors also play a variety of instruments throughout, usually to set the mood of a scene ahead. This is an interesting and highly effective tool.

With exception Luke Barton (Holmes) and Joseph Derrington (Dr Watson) who also briefly plays a minor role in the second half, all the actors play multiple roles. These character changes happen seamlessly in the first half. However as the pace picks up during the second half things can get a bit confusing. Though further narration may have been a possible solution to resolve this. .

Very interestingly the story is set during colonial times and more importantly touches on the early uprisings in India and is a reminder of this countries vulgar brutality and is a stark lesson regarding this countries unsavory past.

Luke Barton portrayal as Holmes and Joseph Derringtons portrayal of Dr Watson are both perfectly balanced and the developing bond between them is clear. Their relationship is both caring and nurturing, and humorous at times.

Stephanie Rutherford plays several female roles including Dr Watson’s future wife Mary Morstan. With a slight costume alteration and accent changes she is able to change skillfully and believable.

Christopher Glover plays a interesting array of characters with his Detective Athelney-Jones quite amusing, but a bit cliché.

Ru Hamilton was brilliant as the neurotic hypochondriac twin Thaddeus Sholto, but this was possibly to the detriment of his other characters.

Finally Zack Lee playing much more serious characters and whose slightly over long monologue as Jonathan Small explained the whole mystery. Zack managed to use the right balance between sinister, bombastic and vulnerable throughout.

It is obvious that a lot of work has gone into this production and that the cast also work very hard throughout.

However unfortunately for me the play misses the mark a bit and only because of the limitations of presenting such a complex piece on the small stage. The actors role changes work very well at times to the benefit of the performance. Unfortunately they also don’t go as well and leads to some confusion especially in the second half.

Despite this it is still a satisfying play to watch being thrilling, humorous, thought-provoking and ingenious at times.