Review: A Study in Scarlet (A Study of…) by Vicious Fish Theatre

I remember discovering the stories of Sherlock Holmes. After years of being familiar with the character through films, pastiches and pop culture references, I sat down to watch the Jeremy Brett TV series in the 1990s. It was so unlike the character as portrayed elsewhere that I was intrigued. This Holmes was not kindly and avuncular, but sharp and difficult. His Watson was an active everyman, not a fat, bumbling dimwit. Intrigued, I turned to the source material, and was instantly hooked. I still reread the books and short stories regularly.

Robert Lloyd came to Sherlock Holmes much earlier than me, though the impact was no less profound.  Holmes has been Lloyd’s hero since the lanky actor was 12 years old. The culmination of the literary love affair is “A Study in Scarlet (A Study of…)”. Lloyd re-enacts the first ever Holmes novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, recreating key scenes from A Study in Scarlet. The story is interspersed with Lloyd’s comments on how he discovered the Great Detective, elements of the story he finds peculiar or amazing, and (particularly in the awkward latter half of the book) inspired suggestions for casting the wild west adventure part of the narrative.

Lloyd portrays all the characters of the book with deft shifts in posture and voice, so you’re never confused about who’s speaking. It’s an enthusiastic rather than subtle retelling, but the key plot points are all there and you are rushed along with the story.

Lloyd’s obvious affection and enthusiasm for Holmes is infectious, and it’s that passion that makes this show so enjoyable. The conspiratorial asides and gleeful observations pull the show together. It’s charming and wonderful to see literature praised so joyfully on stage, and the story re-enacted so colourfully. The effects are simple and sparing, using projections and lighting, and all the more effective as a result.

As someone who already loves the Sherlock Holmes stories, I enjoyed this production immensely. Its energy, sense of fun and clear love of the books communicates as a fresh approach to a character that many people think they already know. My hope is that others who only know Holmes through his much-diluted form in popular culture will see this, be infected by that passion, and go to the source, just as the show’s director, Scott Gooding, did.

A Study in Scarlet (A Study of…) is on at Son of Loft, The Lithuanian Club, 44 Errol Street, North Melbourne until Friday 1 October. Tickets online from the Melbourne Fringe website.