From the depths of ancient Egypt an ancient evil is rising, claiming the lives of those who have ransacked its history.
Is this a curse? An occult threat from which there is no defence? Or is there another side to this mystery, something more earthly yet just as deadly? What did Lord Caerphilly’s expedition to the Valley of the Kings disturb, and most importantly, how can it be stopped?
Richard Lloyd’s second exploration into the world of Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous creation follows on from the success of ‘Sherlock Holmes and the Vampyres of London’, in which the legendary detective faced the iconic prince of darkness, Dracula. This time, as before, real and fictional characters of the period are combined in one fiendish mystery. Holmes and his trusted companion John Watson travel the streets of Victorian London, from the hallowed British Museum to the seedy brothels of London’s West End in search of the answer to a mystery that if unsolved, may see an empire fall. Which of its denizens may hold the vital clues? Lady Mountjoy, a woman whose most fervent desire is to see the treasures of the tombs returned? Agrippina Bligh, an unscrupulous Madam in a dark trade with darker secrets? The mysterious Egyptian Afzad Azul, who may as easily be allied with demons as angels?
Time is running out…
Reviewed Friday 8th April, Coulsdon Community Centre by Allison Mackenzie for Inside Croydon
As a last-minute stand in (and first-time critic) I was lured into the role by a friend with promise of front row seats – however I didn’t need much persuasion as I had for many years hoped to see a Theatre Workshop Coulsdon production – no excuses this time!
Stepping into this cosy theatre for the first time, we were greeted warmly and enthusiastically by a member of the company who guided us to our reserved spots… it was a full house and the atmosphere already buzzing.
Instantly I noticed the scene setting attention to detail – from the tickets, programme, and graphic posters to the low warm lighting reminiscent of an oil lamp glow – we slid neatly into the 19th century and were primed for a ride around Victorian London – to observe the highlife and the lowlife.
Sherlock Holmes and the Sons of Anubis, is, unbelievably, an original story written by company member Richard Lloyd. I researched this fact after the show because I simply couldn’t believe this masterful, convincingly ‘Holmes’ story wasn’t a genuine Conan Doyle. The play starts us off in the Oriental club – where the upper classes mingle and we first establish the connections between these uptight toffs and their archaeological dig, and start to understand there may be repercussions from unearthing the dead…
Mark Taylor portrays beautifully the unlikable, supercilious, and eventually rattled Lord Caerphilly (a role contrasted later with his return as unkempt, fussing but likable curator Professor Marchmont, a scene stealing interlude which had the audience guffawing), and we also meet fellow patron Captain Carey (Thomas Phasey), who’s classy performance intermingled well with the older characters whilst showing a touch of vulnerability which left us very much hoping he’d survive the ‘curse’.
This scene is also when first meet Dr John Watson, and as the story develops this character very much represents the audience perspective on stage – we, like Dr Watson, are wide eyed and somewhat naive, following the narrative not really knowing who has an agenda and who is lying. John East’s portrayal is perfectly pitched as the classic sidekick, his calmness challenged several times by the ‘difficult’ women he encounters – giving us some fabulous verbal sparring. A special mention to John’s subtle physical representation of Watsons painful leg, his winces did not go unnoticed.
We settle in with a whisky, served by marvellous cameo from Christopher Argles as the bar steward, to find proceedings are rudely interrupted by the suave, mysterious Afzul Azad – perfectly attired in the classic white suit and eyes suspiciously hidden behind dark glasses – a sharp contrast to the fusty clientele. Joe Wilson completely embodied this enigmatic role throughout the play – his accent impeccable and the excellent plot kept the audience guessing throughout as to his true identity. One cursed scarab later and we can tell that there may be some higher forces at play…
Before we leave the club and move on, I must mention one integral part of the play – the set. Initially the blank backdrop, colour reminiscent of clotted cream crust, seemed a little underwhelming considering the appropriate vintage chairs and bar; however, it was swiftly apparent this was no such simple wall, it was integral to the metamorphosis of each location, using clever partitioning and coloured lighting it deftly transported us from ancient tombs to the Baker St parlour via the banks of Thames and back again. The foreground offered a thoughtful combination of rich ruby reds and sage greens echoed both in leather furniture, excellent costumes and delightful props, and finally the sound effects and background music completed the layering – subtly complementing the action and supporting the narrative with the occasional thump and scream.
It’s not too long before we are introduced to the infamous Sherlock. Rory Curnock Cook was exceptional – his performance had the gravitas, intelligence, and aloofness one comes to expect from this iconic detective. Rory’s charisma continued consistently throughout and by the end so established in the role one would eagerly anticipate further instalments featuring this lead. A special mention to the terrific suit and refreshing lack of deerstalker.
Within the safe confines of the parlour, the amusing passive aggressive interactions between Mrs Hudson (Dawn Ford) and Holmes were a joy to observe. The subtle raised eyebrow and knowing smirk made it clear who had the upper hand at 221B Baker Street. I am quite surprised the play didn’t end with egg on someone’s face…
We now discover that from the six aristocrats at the Egyptian dig, three have mysteriously died and with one already feeling itchy thanks to the scarab, there is a suggestion of foul play. Soon we meet one more our explorers, the suspiciously defensive Count Lorenzo Barazzi, solidly played by Paul Ford delivering some storming monologues, giving the audience some much appreciated backstory.
The omnibus next leads us to Cleopatras Needle, to meet the ‘LADS’ – the seemingly innocent ladies who may protest a little too much. Most enjoyable clear convincing performances from Lauren Edmonds as Mrs Allbrighton and Francesca Auletta as Mrs Crabwell, boldly defending the rights of the ancient.
Rosie Martin as the matriarch, Lady Mountjoy, gave a slightly apprehensive performance – however maybe that’s because she had much to hide! Kudos to all for repeated use of a plethora of complicated Egyptian names – veritable tongue twisters that did not faze this group one bit. Fellow protestor, Daisy Worby had one of the most complicated roles and she absolutely nailed this multi-faceted haunting performance – from opinionated but vexed firebrand to hypnotised muse – her clear voice shone out on stage and her physicality was perfect – a terrific portrayal.
Next on to the whorehouse where Caerphilly is most compromisingly dead, and we encounter Penny Payne’s joyously rough Mrs Bligh… proper Victorian music hall bawdiness, beautifully exaggerated gestures with incredible stage presence. If Penny can also sing, I’d imagine she’d do a marvellous ‘Master of the House’.
Of course, with a murder comes the salt of the earth Lestrade (Jamie Russell) played with a warm engaging tone, acutely aware that they are already several steps behind Holmes in the chase for a killer.
The chasing takes us to the slums of central London where we meet Hannah Montgomery who absolutely sweeps us away as the whirling dervish that is prostitute Marie Kelly… an absolute scene stealer – with her rolling eyes and cheeky actions (hide your whisky!) there was never a dull moment. Hannah’s accent was so authentic, brim-full of Irish grit, one of my favourite characters.
Finally, Indianna Scorziello enters the play quite late in the day – when we think we’ve got the measure of who’s who – she wakes us up to the fact there are even more layers to the plot and her confident sexy Harriet Snapcase is just the ticket to ruffle some feathers. Indianna does not disappoint later, continuing with a strong iconic depiction of the risen again queen and her mesmerising performance builds the plot to a crescendo.
I have to say the quality of the whole experience was excellent – the play totally enthralling, combined with the warm welcome by the front of house team (some delicious mulled wine and the last of the buttered hot cross buns went down very well) – but what really cemented this evening was the cast spilling out into the adoring audience after the curtains fell – greeted by hugs from friends and family – it was apparent what a true community gem Theatre Workshop Coulsdon is. I will definitely be back.