Dan and Jeff Pleasance Courtyard 1450 until 25th August Reviewed 15th August £12 4 stars
I‘ve very fond memories of seeing a Reduced Shakespeare Company show when I was a child. I remember very little about the content of the show, but the frenetic energy and constant costume changes still stand out. Later in life I saw a staging of The Importance of Being Earnest with a similar conceit, two actors playing all the parts in a manner that added a fresh spin to a classic.
This sort of reduced company/abridged oeuvre has become increasingly popular in recent years, perhaps reaching its endpoint with Charles Ross’ One Man Star Wars. You’ll find that show at the Fringe this year (again), along with its counterpart One Man Lord of the Rings. Dan and Jeff have their Potted Potter as well as the Potted Sherlock of this review.
The ubiquity of the format belies its broad and enduring appeal both to children and their parents. Potted Sherlock fits the mould well, taking an intergenerational subject and applying plenty of contemporary references as well as timeless sight gags and slapstick.
It’s innocent, endearing, unadulterated fun (though grown-ups will love it too), running through the plots of all 60 Sherlock Holmes stories in 70 minutes. Dan and Jeff provide a classic performance in the tradition of double-act comedy, and newcomer Lizzie Wort demonstrates why she should become a permanent addition to their lineup. Expect plenty of laughs rather than a deep theatrical investigation of Conan Doyle’s writing and characters – this was probably the best-received show that I’ve seen at the Fringe this year, with easy pure enjoyment the name of the game.
I’ve a few niggling complaints that, in conjunction, detract enough from the show to make it a four star affair rather than a five; that said, there’s nothing that could stop the laugh riot on this stage.
Some Sherlock aficionados might not appreciate the lack of focus on Sherlockian material. As with other shows of this type that I’ve seen, there’s (understandably, and correctly) more emphasis on the characterisations of the actors rather than the characters that they embody. No complaints there, but in this particular case that means that there’s more attention given to Dan and Jeff than Sherlock and Watson.
I’m also a bit hesitant about the way in which Lizzie’s introduction into the duo has been handled. The dynamic has previously been clear-cut: one’s a straight man, one’s a funnyman. Lizzie’s character is a bit of a mess; part stooge, part romantic interest. She’s not given much of a commanding role, and there’s an element of ‘no girls allowed’ at play. Under other circumstances I’d laugh it off, but I think that a show aimed primarily at children should be more careful about how they represent gender roles. Lizzie is, nonetheless, outstanding and hilarious in her own right.
Being unable to source any suitable children I could borrow, I attended on my lonesome but found some of my biggest belly laughs of the festival. Potted Sherlock is definitely a visit for those with kids in tow, and well worth considering even for adults by themselves.