There’s a moment in this misbegotten attempt to cut and shut Sherlock Holmes and ‘A Christmas Carol’ that has stayed with me, through the journey home and the long marches of the night. ‘What’s the matter?’ asks the sister – played by a white actor – of her brother, – played by a Black actor – ‘you look pale.’ Titters from (some of) the audience. I don’t know what I’m not getting here, but this doesn’t feel like some super-sophisticated piece of meta-woke prejudice-baiting. It just feels like old-fashioned 1970s-TV ‘comedy’.
This is an extreme example of the tone-deafness of off-Broadway import ‘A Sherlock Carol’, but there’s no shortage of others. Briefly, Holmes – troubled by the spectre of his nemesis Moriarty – is called upon to investigate the death of the wealthy Londoner Ebenezer Scrooge. In exorcising his own demons, he solves the case.
It’s not that bad an idea. You could – squinting – see Conan Doyle as a popular-fiction heir to Dickens, with characters and phrases that have entered our collective culture. But you get the feeling that writer/director Mark Shanahan really likes Sherlock Holmes and maybe isn’t that into Dickens. Most of ‘A Sherlock Carol’ is just a Holmes story made from parts of other ones. The Dickens-y bits are generic festiveness and some ghosts, and there aren’t really enough of either. More of a problem is the production’s total inability to decide what it is. It’s not funny (see above), it’s not scary, it’s not great for kids and it’s not very Christmassy. Ben Caplan’s portrayal of Holmes as a twitchy unshaven wreck sits oddly with the actor playing Watson also putting on a dress to play a Widow Twanky-esque housekeeper, and Inspector Lestrade reconfigured as a kind of principal boy played by Gemma Laurie in a moustache.
What I did enjoy (which might just be me) was the sense that this is probably what a lot of popular Victorian theatre was like. A hopeful low-budget stab at a seasonal extravaganza with familiar characters and enough novelty value to allow you to accept that it’s not very good and just enjoy the madness for a couple of hours. But ‘A Sherlock Carol’ doesn’t have anywhere near enough of that ramshackle chaos in a city where you can go and see an actual drunk person playing Scrooge.
Haunting, for all the wrong reasons.