A Scandal in Bohemia!
Tristan Bates Theatre
Reviewed – 28th October 2019
“It shines at times, but is crying out for editorial cuts”
In my opinion, The Simpsons is arguably the most timeless and successful cartoon ever to grace television. Why? Because it appeals both to kids and adults alike, without compromise for either audience. In this sense, writer and director Francesca De Sica’s all-female, pop-up theatre retelling of the Sherlock Holmes short story appears to strive for the same effect, with a play that has lots of wackiness and slapstick gags for kids, but also a detailed plot and the odd joke only adults will get.
The text is pretty faithful to the original story – the language feels more or less the same although there is lots of ad-libbing. We follow Holmes (Elizabeth Appleby) and Watson (Francesca De Sica) as they are tasked with retrieving a sensitive photograph from actress Irene Adler (Princess Donnough) and returning it to their client, The King of Bohemia (Laura-Jean Richardson). Side characters are multi-roled by the five-piece cast – Katharine Blackshaw (as Mrs Hudson and other roles) gives the most memorable performance by far, making each of her characters stand out but through subtlety rather than playing for laughs as some of the other actors do.
The atmosphere of A Scandal In Bohemia is friendly and upbeat from the moment we walk in – each guest is offered a drink and a snack whilst the characters natter away, interacting fabulously with everyone. At the end, a few audience members are brought onstage and Sherlock tries to guess their occupation, which goes down extremely well with any kids watching. It’s a show that feels refreshingly collaborative. The world of the play also very much comes alive through the show’s design – despite having a pop-up set it is detailed and utilises the whole space, whilst the costumes are appropriate for the period yet eye-catching and colourful. Hand and shadow puppets are both involved also, albeit briefly – the shadow puppets are particularly charming and perhaps could be made more of.
This all takes over from the actual story, which seems like an afterthought. Many of the scenes feel too long and wordy, which is enough to make adults switch off, let alone kids. For those who are trying to follow what’s going on, this isn’t helped by the ceaseless ad-libbing or the random, vague movements that for some reason De Sica has included alongside important plot points. Unfortunately, A Scandal In Bohemia also seems to miss the mark in its quest to replicate ‘The Simpsons Complex’ and create something which appeals to audiences of all ages. The jokes are a little too childish and the acting a little too hammy for an adult audience, and the gags that clearly are there for adults are somewhat shoehorned in – the worst offender being a bit with Holmes and Watson openly snorting cocaine. Is that really something we want to show an audience of schoolchildren? The attempts to tell the story in a ‘fun’ way sometimes fall short also, for example the crime scene analysis/boxing match which somehow manages to be both confusing and unengaging, and the Punch & Judy show which seeks to fight the patriarchy, but seems completely out of place here.
It’s a shame because as a kids’ show, A Scandal in Bohemia has potential to be hugely entertaining if the text were simplified and the disjointed ‘jokes for the parents’ were got rid of. It shines at times, but is crying out for editorial cuts.
Reviewed by Sebastian Porter
Photography by Paul White
A Scandal in Bohemia!
Tristan Bates Theatre until 2nd November
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: