Thursday, February 18, 2021

475. SHERLOCK HOLMES. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975.

Philip Locke, John Wood. (Photos: Martha Swope.)

SHERLOCK HOLMES [Dramatic Revival] A: Arthur Conan Doyle and William Gillette; D: Frank Dunlop; S/C: Carl Toms; L: Neil Peter Jampolis; P: The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, in the Royal Shakespeare Company Production; T: Broadhurst Theatre; 11/12/74-1/4/76 (471)

Morgan Sheppard, Keith Taylor, Nicholas Selby, John Wood, Mel Martin.

An elaborate, highly successful revival of the 1899 crime melodrama in whose title role co-author William Gillette appeared on and off for 33 years. No one took the play seriously in 1974, but the cleverness of British director Frank Dunlop’s staging—he was one of the most consistently imaginative directors of the day—the gorgeousness of Carl Toms’s sets, and the acting of a thoroughly brilliant ensemble from Britain’s RSC had the critics turning cartwheels. “What a change to be able to recommend, yes, wholeheartedly, an inadequate play magnificently staged. Miraculous,” beamed Clive Barnes.

Nicholas Selby, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, John Wood, Mel Martin.

Sherlock Holmes, about an archetypal confrontation between the super-sleuth of Baker Street (John Wood, replaced by John Neville) and his masterfully dangerous archenemy, Professor Moriarty (Philip Locke, replaced by Patrick Horgan and Clive Revill), was played with all the straightforward panache required of a 19th-century thriller set in the fog-shrouded streets and book-lined lodgings of horse-and-carriage London. A touch of spoofery hung in the air, but ever so gently, never threatening to crash leadenly to the ground.

John Wood, Clive Revill.

The revolving sets were realistically and solidly built, recalling the Broadway of pre-movie years. The precision pacing, intriguingly detailed characterizations, authentically costumed characters, imaginatively conceived lighting and mood-setting violin and cello music were like a rich sundae topped by Woods’s virtuoso acting. T.E. Kalem wrote

If any of us lives to see a more perfect embodiment of Sherlock Holmes than that offered by John Wood, it will only be by some special dispensation of Thespis. . . . Wood belongs among the top dozen actors of the English-speaking stage. His voice is an organ of incisive command. He moves with the lithe, menacing grace of a puma. In an instant, he can range from partygoer prankishness to inner desolation. At the core of his being is a raging, inviolate perfectionist.

There have been, of course, more Sherlocks since this production, primarily on TV and in films. Would Kalem have revised his opinion had he seen, for instance, Benedict Cumberbatch? (Let’s leave Robert Downey, Jr., out of the convo, shall we?)

The large company also included Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Nicholas Selby, Mel Martin, Trevor Peacock, and Tim Pigott-Smith, all of whom were replaced during the run.

Wood was nominated for a Best Actor, Play, Tony, but lost to John Kane and Winston Ntshona who shared the award for Sizwe Banzi Is Dead and The Island. Locke also received a nomination, for Best Supporting Actor. Carl Toms won both the Tony for Best Scenic Designer and the comparable award from the Drama Desk. Lighting designer Neil Peter Jampolis also took home both a Tony and a Drama Desk Award