There are difficulties in adapting for the stage three of the four Sherlock Holmes stories, including this The Sign of Four, since as novels they have a quite a primitive structure. Each runs a dual narrative; one by DR Watson, the faithful Holmesian sidekick, as he painstakingly outlines crime and investigation, and the other is a story told by an omniscient narrator of events leading up to the crime and set in an exotic locale; here India at the time of the Mutiny. The adapter must decide how to integrate the two strands, how to cross-cut between them, what to do with the literary nature of the Watson narrative, and what to omit in the interests of a, say, two-hour running time and the requirements of dramatic spectacle.
scenes which are included vary in their effectiveness. We had a stylised fight
between Holmes and an ex-prizefighter which seemed to serve the purpose
principally of breaking up the cascading descriptive talk all around it, and it
was oddly performed in slow-motion. A hansom cab ride through
actors, all taking more than one part and four of them multi-roles, doubled as
musicians, lurking at the back and occasionally venturing onto stage. Thus Miss
Morston (Stephanie Rutherford) was also seen on trombone and later played the
fiddle. Thaddeus Sholto (Ru Hamilton) played a nice sax and clarinet, and so
on. In that role, I thought Hamilton and also Joseph Derrington throughout as a
sturdy Dr Watson were the pick of the actors, though Zach Lee's Small was
sinewy and quite powerful.
But let me single out Victoria Spearing's terrific set. This was in Indian mahogany, an elaborate confection of strong verticals topped by minaret-type pinnacles and pyramidal roofs, cris-crossed by a mathematical maze of wooden rails and struts. Backed by tall brilliantly lit strips of crimson curtain, it was preceded by a floor of black and white intricate Moorish design. The set was constantly being broken up and employed for the succeeding scenes in ingenious ways. The opening effect of set and Indian music including the sound of a tamboura was just magical.