The Mystery of the Valkyrie (Woodward Productions)
QPAC, The Playhouse
March 11 – 19
The highly anticipated “The Mystery of the Valkyrie” is quite different from Woodward Productions’ usual “A Very Naughty Christmas” type fare, yet its grand world premiere, (presented in association with Powerarts) proves the company’s versatility and gives audiences a show of immense calibre in its every aspect. The game is afoot from the opening atmospheric scene, which drips with foreshadowing sounds of its full detail once the narrative is played out to return us to it towards the show’s end. It is an appropriate opening, not just narratively but in signpost to the integral role that the production’s stagecraft has in realisation of it story.
The fast-paced dramatic thriller begins in London in 1891, thereafter following the story of beloved sleuthing duo Sherlock Holmes (Eugene Gilfedder) and Dr. John Watson (Anthony Gooley) trying to save the world from criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty (Bryan Probets), who has created a deadly pathogen as a tool for his evil intents. While writer and director Michael Futcher’s standalone Sherlock Holmes mystery is engaging in and of itself, with resonance emerging though its simultaneous feet in the past and present in talk about a deadly laboratory-created pathogen and life-saving anti-toxin, its nods to the tropes of a familiar genre add its entertainment value. And it is told with the help of some spectacular stagecraft as the surfaces of rolling set pieces are used to reflect projected images, adding further dimension to the story’s telling. Craig Wilkinson’s video footage affords a cinematic perspective and allows for point-of-view shares, such as when a show motion projected recount of how a series of events have unfolded accompanies Holmes’ attempts to talk other characters through his thinking.
Audience conversations at interval are all about the show’s extraordinary staging (set design by Isabel Hudson), given Act One’s quick shifts throughout to create, for example, stairs to nowhere to push action along within and between settings as pieces are efficiently moved in and out of place to give us the locations of Moriarty’s lab, Holmes’ iconic 221B Baker Street London address and a theatre setting of emerging murderous actions. The best, however, is at that point, still yet come as Act Two features the incredible choreography of set piece movement in an extended energetic chase scene, which garners its own mid-show applause. Dan Venz and Andy Fraser’s respective movement and fight direction also contribute to the fluidity of such scenes, with David Walters lighting design and Phil Slade’s sound and music also occupying vital roles in creation of the dynamic on-stage spectacle, especially as the action is taken from atop to within a waterfall with surround sound and vision.
The show’s stellar team of creatives is matched by its all-star cast. Proberts is a crowd favourite, not just as Holmes’s evil nemesis, but bumbling, long-winded and eager-to-help servant Ames, also receiving his own mid-show applause following Ames’ enthusiastic recreation of Holmes’ imagined pre-crime events. The always reliable Helen Cassidy is solid as very Scottish Inspector Macdonald, while Kimi Tsukakoshi effectively rounds out the main cast.
This is, however, a Sherlock Holmes story and veteran performer Gilfedder is absolutely absorbing in his realisation of one of the most legendary characters of literature and screen. His is a nuanced performance of cold dispassion, but also exaggerated excitement and showmanship during an investigation. Indeed, his animated gestures and varied vocal cadence enliven the story more than any words of dialogue. Meanwhile, although his comic timing is spot-on, Gooley’s Watson is less bumbling sidekick and more loyal friend; while the duo’s banter back and forth adds to the show’s entertainment value, the restraint in also allowing focus on their bond, adds an appreciated depth to things, as summed up by the show’s final shadowed side-by-side image of the two together.
“The Mystery of the Valkyrie” is a hugely successful production of a new-but-old story that has everything going for it, apart perhaps from its 2.5 hours running time (with interval). As its short but popular season at QPAC show, Sherlock Holmes can certainly stand the test of time, especially when given a multimedia zhoosh up. And much as it leaves its audience entertained by its performances and wowed by the very-ness elevation of its stagecraft, the question that resonates most after its conclusion is ‘what will Woodward Productions do next?’
Photos: c/o Joel Devereux