It isn’t a proper Cardiff Christmas without a trip to the New Theatre, now the official home of Wales’ biggest panto. Over the last few years we’ve seen classics like Cinderella, Snow White and Aladdin – and their latest festive offering Jac and the Beanstalk, truly is a giant of a panto!
Starring the iconic Lesley Joseph (Birds of a Feather) and Cardiff’s favourite Dame, Mike Doyle, the story follows Jac (Adam Bailey), a poor country boy who dreams of saving his hometown of Cardiff from the evil giants who live above them in a city in the clouds. Accompanied by girlfriend Jill (Denquar Chupak), brother Silly Simon (Aaron James), and mum Dame Trot (Doyle), Jac goes on an epic quest to defeat the giants’ villainous henchman Fleshcreep (Steve Arnott) with a little help from the Spirit of the Beans (Joseph).
With an un-beet-able cast, hilarious jokes and eye-boggling visual effects, its no surprise that Jac and the Beanstalk is a wonderful night of festive family entertainment. When I spoke to star Adam Bailey a few months ago, he also promised some great musical numbers – and boy do they deliver!
There’s an adorable song featuring the village’s furry friends, a villainous Disco ditty complete with dancing demons, and a standout sequence to Dua Lipa’s ‘Dance the Night’ from Barbie courtesy of Jac and Jill (though it’s a shame they never went up a hill at any point). And the a-maize-ing ensemble is responsible for the best dancing I’ve seen in a panto: kudos to the super talented James Davies Williams, Phoebe Roberts, Amber Pierson, Marcel Li Ping, Janine Somcio, and Lauren Wadsworth.
Director and choreographer Nick Winston keeps the story light, bright and breezy while writer Alan McHugh and the fabulous cast yield up a fresh crop of Christmas crackers. And the visual effects team outdoes themselves with a heart-pounding, pulse-racing trip to the giant’s lair – in 3-D! (Glasses are provided but you might want to bring your own brollies…) Suffice to say it’s bean on my mind ever since.
A perfect Christmas gift for all the family, Jac and the Beanstalk truly is entertainment beyond be-leaf!
Jac and the Beanstalk is performing at the New Theatre through to 7 January 2024. You can find more information on the show and book tickets here.
This is the first time I have been to the theatre since lockdown and this was a most wonderful reintroduction. There is nothing that compares to live theatre and this opportunity did not disappoint and I would certainly recommend this musical to everyone.
When composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist-dramatist Oscar Hammerstein teamed up they became the greatest musical partnership of all time. Their influence and innovation to theatre musicals has been celebrated the globe over.
This production of The King and I comes to Cardiff following a critically-acclaimed season at The London Palladium where it was no surprise that it was a sell out!
From curtain up the audience was transported and transfixed to another world far from the mundane. For many the bench mark for this elaborate musical is the 1956 film with screen performances of Deborah Kerr (Anna) and Yul Brynner (King Mongkut).
The West End’s Annalene Beechey and Broadway’s Darren Lee did not disappoint with their interpretation and performances that transported us to the Siam of Margaret Landon’s novel Anna and the King of Siam on which the musical is based.
The story follows Anna, a widow, and her son as they travel to Bangkok, where Anna has been assigned as a tutor to the King’s children. Anna soon finds herself having cultural clashes and differences with the King whilst endearing herself to both the children and the king’s many wives.
The Royal children were a delight, completing the illusion of being in a far country at a different time.
There are also the side stories of star crossed lovers and references to slavery. These must be viewed in context but the female narrative cannot be ignored and gives additional depth to the story as a whole.
The stand out actor for me was Caleb Lagayan, who excelled as a truly believable Prince Chulalongkorn. His voice was powerful, captivating and commanded the stage.
From the golden age of musicals, The King and I is one of the greatest, with what many would consider one of the finest scores ever written.
Many in the audience seemed to genuinely find it difficult not to sing along to the familiar songs including Whistle a Happy Tune and Shall We Dance.
Tony Award-winning director Bartlett Sher and his internationally renowned creative team created the atmosphere of old Siam. The wonderful full-scale orchestra led by Christoper Munday, must be given credit for keeping us spell bound all evening, even before the curtain rose.
A truly memorable evening I would recommend to everyone.
In 2001, when British Army Major Charles Ingram won the top prize on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, he became the third person ever do so – and the first to be denied the winnings. After a lengthy trial he was found to have procured the money by deception, in conspiracy with his wife Diana and fellow contestant Tecwen Whittock. The prosecution’s case rested on the production company’s claim that Charles, who’d played erratically throughout his time in the hot seat, was guided to the correct answers through a series of coughs from Diana, Tecwen, and an underground ring of Britain’s top quizzers, who’d get a cut of the prize money.
Directed by Daniel Evans and Seán Linnen, and written by James Graham, Quiz takes its audience through the story through the lens of the trial that followed. In Act One, we hear the case for the Prosecution; in Act Two, the case for the Defence – all while using Millionaire’s infamously stress-inducing psychological tactics: the pulsing heartbeat, the gradually dimming lights, and the twisted spectacle of watching someone unravel before your very eyes. No wonder it quickly became the world’s most popular TV quiz show: you quite literally couldn’t look away.
Comedian and Britain’s top impressionist Rory Bremner stars as Chris Tarrant – and he’s utterly uncanny in the role, capturing every Tarrant-esque tic. His scenes with Lewis Reeves (I May Destroy You, The Midwich Cuckoos) as the unassuming Major Ingram in particular seem lifted exactly from the episode itself. This is in no small part thanks to the spot-on set, designed by Robert Jones and lit by Ryan Day, which brilliantly evokes the original game show and transitions spookily well into an imposing courtroom.
This is far from your typical courtroom drama. It is brimming with energy, poignancy and lots of laughs – not least from Mark Benton (Northern Lights, Shakespeare and Hathaway) as a series of hilarious characters, from the bum bag-toting top dog of ITV to the leather-coated leader of the quizzers’ secret circle. A brilliant ensemble features strong supporting performances from Charley Webb (Emmerdale) as Charles’ quiz-obsessive wife Diana, as well as Danielle Henry, Leo Wringer, Jay Taylor and Stefan Adegbola. And do look out for scene-stealing turns from Sukh Ojla and Marc Antolin.
Nominated for two Olivier Awards including Best New Comedy, the West End smash hit was adapted for TV in 2020, starring Michael Sheen, Matthew Macfadyen and Sian Clifford. But there’s something special about the theatrical production and how it poses the ultimate 50/50 question: Were the Ingrams guilty, or not guilty? You might want to phone a friend, or ask the audience – which Quiz does, by giving them the opportunity to vote, and not just as a contestant’s lifeline. Fresh from a smash-hit run on the West End, Quiz perfectly captures the heart-pumping tension of the world’s most popular TV quiz show. Catch it while you can – and that’s my final answer!
Quiz is performing at the New Theatre Cardiff from 18 – 21 October. More information on the show and how to book tickets can be found here.
Quiz is a fictional imagining based on real events which took place in 2001 following an episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? It is not in any way connected with the makers of the programme or any of the individuals portrayed. The television programme Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? is produced by 2waytraffic.
The days are getting shorter and the nights are drawing in and that means one thing: the New Theatre’s annual Christmas pantomime is coming, and this year’s is gonna be alriiiiiiiii. Jac and the Beanstalk is the New’s latest festive shindig to sprinkle a little Welsh magic over the Very British artform that is the panto, and Get the Chance’s Barbara Hughes-Moore sat down with the actor bringing the titular adventurer to life: Adam Bailey, fresh from London’s West End who’s starred in the likes of Jersey Boys and The Book of Mormon.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Thank you for speaking with me today, Adam. Tell us a little bit about Jac and the Beanstalk
What a brilliant panto – I can’t wait to get started. I grew up in Cardiff and it’s going to be a really special thing to be able to come back to the New Theatre.
Could you share some of your memories of the New Theatre?
I’ve been doing shows here since I was a teenager! I did 4 or 5 amateur productions here, so it’s lovely to come back as a professional: it’s a real full circle moment!
And to be playing the titular character, too! Tell me about Jac: what makes him tick?
Well, I’m not sure because we don’t have a script yet! We start rehearsals end of November and that’s when we’ll start to explore all of that. It’s going to be such a fun light show. Panto is a total romp, so I can’t wait!
How did you get involved?
Just like any actor you audition, you sing and you act, and then you get the call.
There are some quite big names on the poster behind you, like Lesley Joseph and Mike Doyle. Have you met either of them yet?
I don’t think I have… although I’m terrible with names and faces!
Well, Mike is a master of disguise, so you could have met him and not known it!
What are your first memories of panto?
Although it wasn’t a family tradition, I’ve been to panto at the New Theatre as a child. My first proper memories were the first times I did panto when I was in training, during my econd and third year. it’s so much fun, and so important to the fibre of theatre in this country. It’s so many people’s first foray into theatre, so it’s a really wonderful thing.
You’ve performed both in pantomimes like Aladdin, and musical theatre like Jersey Boys in the West End. What are the differences between the two – or is it the same process?
It’s all theatre at the end of the day. It’s essentially your office job! But all the shows you do are slightly different and it’s the people who make it. There is something special about panto and how stylised it is, because there’s nothing else like it. It’s such a British staple and such a unique tradition.
What’s the secret to a good pantomime?
Good people. As long as you’ve got good people, then it’s gonna be brilliant and I’m excited to meet the cast.
Will it get Cardiff audiences on their feet?
Yes! Panto is a party at the end of the day and we want to get everyone up on their feet and feel good. We want to send everyone on their way singing.
How does the show incorporate Welsh references into Jac and the Beanstalk?
The clue is right here in the title: we’ve taken the ‘k’ out of ‘Jack’ for a start!
Will there be room to improv?
With certain characters, yes. Mike Doyle for example has done this over and over and there will be improv… but within reason! This isn’t a seven-hour-long panto: we’ve got to do two a day!
What about the costumes?
They’re nice and bright and colourful! What other shows let you get away with wearing things like this?
Do we have any special effects to look forward to?
I hear there’s a special effect with the giant, but it isn’t common knowledge so I can’t give anything away. You’ll just have to wait and see…
Anything else you can tease about the show?
The pantos here are always brilliant. So come along, enjoy yourself, sing along, have a dance: it’s gonna be great.
Get the Chance Community Critic Barbara Hughes-Moore speaks with AJ Jenks, one of the stars of the number one national UK touring production of Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story. Birmingham-born AJ trained in actor/musicianship at the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts and has since gone on to play musical icons like Elvis Presley, Barry Gibb and Mick Jagger before taking on the role of Buddy Holly (which he shares with Chris Weeks).
Buddy is one of just a few iconic musicals including Les Misérables, Phantom of the Opera, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Miss Saigon, Evita and Cats to reach three decades on stage. It follows the musical icon’s meteoric rise from his rockabilly roots to international fame and his legendary final performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, before his untimely death at the age of 22. In just 18 months, Buddy revolutionised the face of contemporary music, and would influence everyone from The Beatles to the Rolling Stones.
Featuring a super talented cast of actor-musicians, Buddy includes 20+ of his greatest hits, including the timeless classics That’ll Be The Day, Peggy Sue, Oh Boy, Everyday and Rave On. It also features classics from Buddy’s contemporaries, like the Big Bopper’s Chantilly Lace and Ritchie Valens’ La Bamba, as well as rip-roaring versions of Shout and Johnny B. Goode.
150 years since its publication, Around the World in 80 Days is a story that continues to inspire and entertain us. Jules Verne’s classic tale of Phileas Fogg’s quest to circumnavigate the globe has been adapted multiple times in films, TV series and video games. This new version, adapted and directed by Juliet Forster for Tilted Wig and York Theatre Royal, adds a new spin on the material that brings a sense of energy, anarchy and fun for the whole family!
A versatile and talented cast of five play circus performers trying to stage a (rather chaotic!) rendition of Verne’s Victorian-era novel. The quintet of actors, acrobats and puppeteers play multiple roles, such as Alex Phelps who deftly plays both the finicky Phileas Fogg and the beleaguered Ringmaster trying to keep the whole thing together. The antics have shades of Mischief Theatre’s The Play That Went Wrong, making it an ideal introduction to theatre for kids and families.
The cast are on top form, bringing zeal and panache to a well-trodden tale. The show features a number of well-choreographed and excellently performed circus acts, including fight scenes, dance scenes and a standout battle over a see-saw that must have been far easier to perform than the actors made it look. While the first act lacks some pace, there is a zesty creativity to proceedings that keeps things chugging along, with puppets and props used to convey train journeys, elephant rides, and a tipsy tussle between Inspector Fix (Eddie Mann) and Passepartout (a hugely lovable Wilson Benedito).
Writer Juliet Foster, who also directs, does a great job of navigating the aspects of the story that haven’t aged quite so well, addressing the British colonialist underpinnings of the storyline in which Indian princess Aouda (Genevieve Sabherwal) is ‘rescued’ by Fogg and Passepartout, and shedding light on the real-life story of American journalist Nellie Bly (Katriona Brown) who, inspired by Verne’s story, undertook the same journey and broke Fogg’s (fictional) record by over a week.
The circus elements bring a sense of spectacle to the proceedings, with Eddie Mann’s Knife Thrower twirling electric flames in a stunning light show (he also plays a sharpshooting cowboy with an action scene all to himself) while Barton whips a target in half from metres away. More circus antics and acrobats, of which this excellent cast are clearly capable, might have added even more to the story (perhaps even some more onstage musical or dance sequences), though the cast are consistently entertaining and Sara Perks’ stage and costume designs add pizzazz. With a little tweaking, though, it could be exceptional.
Originally staged in school fields and socially-distanced venues in 2021, and inspired by the many months spent locked down in our homes, Tilted Wig’s Around the World in 80 Days is a slice of escapism that will take you on a charming journey across the globe – and all without having to leave the New Theatre!
When you hear the term ‘rock opera’, your first thought might be of icons and iconoclasts: Ziggy Stardust, Meat Loaf, Pink Floyd. You don’t tend to think of the Member of Parliament for Sedgefield – but TONY! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera] is here to give former Prime Minister Tony Blair his very own American Idiot (but more on George W. Bush later).
Billed as Yes, Minister meets The Rocky Horror Show, TONY! is the unruly brainchild of comedian Harry Hill and songwriter Steve Brown. Directed by Peter Rowe, it follows the titular politico from cradle to grave, from his stint as a wannabe rockstar in his student days to becoming leader of the Labour party and winning a landslide victory at the 1997 election, plus the precipitous legacy of his special relationship with POTUS and ‘personality’ politics. Jack Whittle, who previously stole the show in Mischief Theatre’s Comedy About a Bank Robbery, is a pitch-perfect PM, nailing all of Blair’s mannerisms from the rictus grin to the ‘right on’ charisma that lent New Labour its groovy young poster boy.
We follow Tony through a cavalcade of larger-than-life characters, including loved-up Liverpudlian Cherie (a top-form Tori Burgess – her running joke about fox hunting is a real winner) and bumbling frenemy Gordon Brown (Phil Sealey). Through it all, Tony is dogged by the angel and devil on his shoulder: the former, a near-saintly Neil Kinnock (original cast member Martin Johnston), portrayed as a tragic Llywelyn-style hero cut down in his political prime, with a rousing ‘Do You Hear the People Sing?’-esque swan song. (We were promised a Les Mis moment, after all). As for the latter, Howard Samuels is delectably devilish as Peter Mandelson, our sinister master of ceremonies and the architect of Blair’s ascent to the big leagues.
They’re joined by an excellent three-piece band (Oli Jackson, David Guy and Harry Brent) and supported by a lively and versatile cast including Rosie Strobel as a rabble-rousing John Prescott, Sally Cheng as the adulterous Robin Cook, Emma Jay Thomas as a dance-mad Princess Di, and William Hazell, who covers all the roles in the show and gets to shine as a briefly-spied Bill Clinton and as Blair’s boyhood hero ‘Mick Jaggers’. The cast double up in roles, which brings us Sealey’s memorable turn as a Groucho Marx-inspired Saddam Hussein and Johnston as a flight jacketed Dubya puppetered by Samuels’ bewigged Dick Cheney.
The accents are broad, the comedy even broader (bordering on bad taste), and the gags fly faster than insults at the PMQs – but the show doesn’t scrimp on the harsh reality. Blair’s accountability in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the three other wars he oversaw during his tenure in Number 10, are on full display, even if his culpability is downplayed into naïve self-advancement. What it does nail, however, is that Blair isn’t a pop star, but a political luvvie: picking pizzazz over principles, soaking up the spotlight while the Gordon Browns of the world are made to wait in the wings.
Entertaining with flashes of brilliance, TONY! isn’t here to set the record straight: it’s here to put that record on a turntable, smash it with a comedy mallet, and dance on the debris. While the set, wigs and costumes could do with some polishing, TONY! gets away with it in the name of slapstick silliness – and its final song has moments of genuine power and poignancy, with nods to ‘Springtime for Hitler’ and Dr Strangelove. If you’re au fait with Harry Hill’s oeuvre, you’ll find the rhythm quickly, and if not, you’ll likely still be swept away in the irreverence of it all. It might not be endorsed by the real Tony Blair, but it certainly was by the audience on opening night, who couldn’t have given it a more rapturous response. The question remains, though: TONY! may have had its Mamma Mia! moment – but will you go again?
What do you get when you cross Yes, Minister with The Rocky Horror Show? You get Tony! [The Tony Blair Rock Opera], of course! This, at least, is the bonkers pitch from comedian Harry Hill and Steve Brown, the comic creatives behind the West End’s weirdest smash hit show.
Billed as “a reckless reappraisal of the life of former Ugly Rumours front man and Britain’s first pop Prime Minister Tony Blair“, it follows the titular Tony from Easy Street to Downing Street in a madcap musical experience like no other, featuring a cast of larger-than-life characters from George W. Bush to Princess Diana.
But don’t expect a history lesson, says co-creator Harry Hill: “In our world Tony’s born singing and dancing, Saddam Hussein is played as Groucho Marx, and Gordon Brown occasionally turns into the Incredible Hulk – let’s just say all the facts are there… but not necessarily as they occurred!”
Having opened on London’s West End in May, it now embarks on a UK tour, including a planned four-week stint at the Edinburgh Festival Fring,e and of course this week at Cardiff’s prestigious New Theatre. While the show is sure to divide audiences (it comes with a note that neither Tony Blair, the Tony Blair Institute, nor any other person featured in this production have endorsed or are affiliated with the production), Hill maintains that it has something for everyone: “It’s a show for Tony Lovers and Haters everywhere – and everyone in between.”
Whether it’s Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, or even Basil and Dawson from The Great Mouse Detective, everyone has their own definitive ‘Holmes and Watson’. And I can safely say that, after watching Blackeyed Theatre’s interpretation of the dynamic duo, theirs has become mine.
After his first appearance in 1886, Holmes quickly became a household name. 56 short stories, four novels and countless film, radio and television adaptations later, Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic consulting detective has become one of the most successful fictional characters ever – so popular that he was resurrected from the dead by public demand!
So who better to tackle one of Holmes’ thornier adventures than Blackeyed Theatre, the Berkshire-based company behind innovative reimaginings of Frankenstein and Jekyll and Hyde – not to mention previous Holmes adventures? Writer Nick Lane (who also directs) navigates smoothly through The Valley of Fear – no mean feat, as it spans twenty years, two cases, and both sides of the Atlantic. Vicky Spearing’s set – a fragmenting skeleton of exposed beams and William Morris-wallpaper, cleverly shifts from fin-de-siècle study to dusty saloon with the help of Oliver Welsh’s clever lighting and Naomi Gibbs’ convincing costumes.
Luke Barton and Joseph Derrington reprise their roles as Holmes and Watson, having first collaborated on Blackeyed’s The Sign of Four in 2018 (For more insight on how Luke and Joseph developed their fantastic rapport, check out our interview here). And what a dynamic duo! Barton is a zesty and mercurial Holmes who positively dances across the stage (at times, quite literally – in one of the show’s most delightful moments, he punctuates his re-enactment of the scuffle by pitching himself across the boards. It’s a ten from me, Luke!) He brings a heroic quality to the role without sanding off Holmes’ rough edges, and his declaration to Watson – “There is no me without you” – is a moment of genuine poignancy.
And it rings true, because Joseph Derrington as Watson really is the perfect counter to Holmes: as steadfast and warm as Holmes is volatile and brash. Watson isn’t a slapstick sidekick here: he’s a partner in (almost) every meaning of the term (and Derrington’s own medical background lends a real authenticity to the good Doctor). Derrington is effortlessly affable as Holmes’ chronicler and companion, and their camaraderie feels authentic and lived-in; there’s a cosiness to the cattiness that reveals genuine affection between them. If, as the characters say, this is their final adventure, then they go out on a high – but I do hope we get to see them together one last time. I dare you to find a better Holmes and Watson after seeing this show.
Meanwhile, Alice Osmanski, Blake Kubena and Gavin Molloy, round out this super-skilled ensemble. Their versatility truly knows no bounds, with Osmanski especially impressive as everyone from a hard-of-hearing housekeeper to a sharp-shootin’ Pinkerton.
Kubena, who thrilled and chilled the New Theatre as the titular Jekyll and Hyde last year, continues to be a captivating stage presence, while Gavin Molloy brings genuine menace as coal-field crime boss McGinty and as Holmes’ most formidable foe (if you know, you know): their confrontation in an art gallery, while brief, is one of the most intense moments of theatre I have yet to experience.
The show has everything you could want from a Sherlock Holmes adventure: packed with twists and turns, it brings the audience in on solving the mystery right along with the characters and keeps you guessing right until the final problem. Whether you’re a die-hard Sherlockian or an amateur sleuth, this is the show for you. Sherlock comes Holmes to roost in Cardiff this week in the last stop of its acclaimed UK Tour, and with only four performances left, it’s an absolute must-see. A whip-smart script and a supremely talented cast make this an adventure for the ages – the game is well and truly afoot!
As Sherlock Holmes: The Valley of Fear comes to Cardiff this week in the last stop of its acclaimed UK Tour, Community Critic Barbara Hughes-Moore spoke with stars Luke Barton and Joseph Derrington (aka Holmes and Watson). Adapted and directed by Nick Lane, The Valley of Fear follows two cases across two sides of the Atlantic and finds Holmes and Watson at a crossroads in their friendship.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
So Luke, you and Joseph first played Holmes and Watson in Blackeyed Theatre’s The Sign of Four a few years ago. You’re now reprising your roles in the UK Tour of The Valley of Fear, Arthur Conan Doyle’s final novel. Where do we find Holmes and Watson when the play starts?
Luke Barton (LB): Things have changed for Holmes and Watson, because at the end of The Sign of Four, Watson gets married to Mary Morstan! In the short stories that occur between [this book] and The Valley of Fear, we learn that Watson has moved out of Bakers Street. He’s set up his own doctors’ practice, and lives with Mary – but he does always seem to return to Baker Street. There’s something about the mysteries they go on that just keeps attracting Watson back to Holmes and Baker Street. So we find Holmes and Watson on New Year’s Day 1895: Watson has come home for Christmas –
Joseph Derrington (JD): And he’s not gone back!
LB: He’s chosen to stay with Holmes instead! Then a mysterious coded message arrives in the post warning them of some harm about to happen to a country squire down in Sussex. From there, they embark on this mystery, and very quickly they go back to what they know best: being a crime-fighting, mystery-solving duo.
I guess a coded mystery message is the best present you could get Holmes and Watson!
LB: Holmes loves it! I imagine Christmas is very boring and sentimental for him but a mystery is like [a gift].
JD: Better than socks!
Joseph, these are two of the most iconic characters in literature. How do you go about crafting that sort of relationship, especially given that you’ve both played the characters before?
JD: I found it quite an easy process. When we first started rehearsals for The Sign of Four back in 2018, there was a lot of discussion about how the relationship between Holmes and Watson should be. Watson was a lot of the time portrayed as a buffoonish character. He’s obviously not as intelligent as Holmes but he’s still intelligent: he’s a medical man, a doctor. We wanted to try and push this relationship where one person is incredibly intelligent but needs one person to channel it. Watson is that person. And when The Valley of Fear came along, we just slipped back into it. What works quite well is that we still speak to each other when we’re not performing in shows! It helps that we like each other.
Do you draw anything from any particular adaptations, or do you leave that behind when focusing on this? How do they play into your process?
JD: I obviously draw off the looks of Jude Law (!) I’d never actually seen a lot of Holmes adaptations, which is probably quite bad! I focused on the discussions I had with Nick [Lane, the writer-director]. I tried to lead in more from the text than from how the character had been played before.
LB: I think for me and a lot of people our age, I was very excited by the BBC adaptation. It was after that version that I went on to read the stories. I think our performance and our production is very much rooted in the original stories and the world of Conan Doyle, and [like] the BBC adaption is done with great reverence to the books. The Victorian world that Conan Doyle creates is quite key to our production, and that was my inspiration as well. There’s something so quintessentially Victorian about Holmes: he is both very much a part of that world but also completely strange within it; he’s very un-Victorian in lots of ways.
Is it important to you to you make him ‘sympathetic’?
LB: Holmes doesn’t care what other people think. But in the job he’s doing, I think he finds [that] emotions and feelings just aren’t helpful, and that’s why he’s described as this unemotional machine. But he is a human being: he just has an incredible capacity to filter stuff out, and that’s intriguing because most of us care what other people think. As actors, we spend every night standing in front of people getting judged by them. You’re always under the spotlight. It’s really refreshing to have a character that can switch that off.
Why is this story so suited to the stage?
LB: There’s something about the larger than life events of these stories, particularly The Valley of Fear, that lend themselves to the theatre. Audiences expect more: we have to go on a bigger imaginative leap. The uniqueness of theatre is that as actors, we sit down with an audience and say: ‘we’re going to pretend we’re these people and you’re going to pretend we are as well’. When you throw in these big characters, like the gangsters and murderers we get in The Valley of Fear, it’s really exciting for an audience. It just allows the imagination to run wild.
JD: I think it also adds to the murder mystery, too: it’s more claustrophobic when you’ve got a mystery and there’s hundreds of people watching you and [anticipating] what’s going to happen in the next hour and a half. Some of the venues we’ve been to in the past, you can see the audience in the front row. We had a floor rolled out and when they’re on the edge of the stage, it does add to the pressure of trying to solve a mystery. No matter how many times we do it, it’s still exciting.
LB: They’re trying to solve it with us: Holmes and Watson are solving the mystery at the same time as the audience. That’s what makes it exciting: you have to figure it out as we do.
Do you find different audiences react in different ways?
LB: That’s the great thing about touring! Like Joe said, we’ve done over 160 shows now, and every night the audience is different: every town, every city, connects and responds to different things. They even root for different characters! And that’s one of the joys of theatre, especially of touring theatre: you go to so many different places, and each one has a different energy.
JD: And while it’s not a comedy, there are funny bits! Nick has tried to keep it very true to the story itself, and it’s nice to see proper Sherlock Holmesians – is there a word for them?
JD: Like Beliebers?
JD: So these Sherlockians are enjoying it even if they know how it ends, because it stays true to the book. It was nerve-wracking to start, [wondering] how Holmes fans would respond. It’s always tricky trying to please everyone – but I think we’ve done it! I’m pleased with it.
The Sherlockians take it really seriously, then?
LB: You’ll not see me in a Deer stalker in this production, but you will see people in the audience wearing one! Plus the full cape, the magnifying glass…
JD: And a lot of moustaches! I’ve seen a fair few – maybe they’re back in…
LB: You know, in the Victorian era, the bushier your beard, the manlier you were.
JD: So I’m semi-masculine, then?
LB: You’ll get there.
Watson is Insta-ready.
LB: You should see him tending that face.
JD: I can’t wait to try and twiddle it.
Only when you’re solving a mystery or being nefarious.
JD: It’s my thinking moustache…
Do you feel you’ve been able to relax into the roles this time around? Or is there something about bringing it back – the moustache, and everything else – that surprised or challenged you?
LB: I did relax a lot more this time around! Like Joe was saying, that feeling the first time around of stepping into the shoes of such brilliant actors, and bringing to life characters people really love, was overwhelming. This time it wasn’t quite as bad. I think what’s been interesting is that Nick really wanted to explore the limits of their friendship: how tricky it must be for Watson to be friends with [Holmes] and what that must be like. What happens if their friendship is tested? That’s been interesting to explore.
JD: For me, the only thing I found tricky was fitting back into the costume after lockdown!
LB: We all did!
I wonder how Holmes and Watson would have coped in lockdown.
JD: Would Holmes have gone into a Baker Street bubble, or a Mary Morstan bubble?
LB: Definitely Baker Street.
JD: Yeah. That’s awkward!
Why do you feel that Holmes and Watson are still so close to our hearts?
LB: They’re basically the first superheroes! You’ve got a dynamic duo with individual ‘powers’ that complement each other, and they use those powers to serve good: they’re superheroes that are also best friends. But there’s just something about their relationship [that] is so interesting. They understand each other even though they’re complete opposites and shouldn’t like each other. We all have that person we can’t be without – and that’s who they are to each other. The intrigue is the cherry on top.
JD: It’s human nature, isn’t it, to build connections with people? To ask for help when you need it; to communicate, and Holmes and Watson do communicate even when it’s one-sided. It’s the humanistic aspect we come back to.
Have you performed in Cardiff before?
LB: We didn’t take the The Sign of Four to Cardiff, though we did perform it in Llandudno – we’re really excited to come to Cardiff! After 8 months, we’re concluding our tour here so Cardiff is getting our last few performances: as of Friday we’re done.
JD: I’ve been brushing up on my Welsh.
JD: Bless you.
We can’t wait to welcome you to Cardiff. The game is afoot!