Playing Sherlock Holmes in this production is very personal to me for three reasons. Firstly, playing the famous detective is every actor’s dream. Secondly, playing Sherlock in a play written by my father is very special indeed as we lost him in January this year. I know he would be extremely proud of this production, particularly as both my brother and myself are involved (George Clemens, technical director). Lastly, I was able to bring in my great friend and talented TV and film composer Edward White to write the score for it. As a family we thank Talking Scarlet for bringing this production to life – it’s a fitting tribute to Brian Clemens.
Everyone asks me: “What is it like to play a character that so many actors have played?” The answer is, it is great fun and humbling. I did my research by watching numerous portrayals, from Basil Rathbone’s to Jeremy Brett’s and Johnny Lee Miller’s. I visited the London Museum, which was staging a Sherlock Holmes exhibition to see where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character began and the many incarnations that I wasn’t aware of. I didn’t want to try to emulate my favourite Sherlock, as it would have become a terrible impersonation, but I felt the best way was to play him from my strengths and utilise what characteristics I most identified with – his sense of justice, humanity and playfulness, particularly with Watson (wonderfully played by George Telfer). I believed I would be different by virtue of the fact that I am playing him. I always work from the script. It wouldn’t serve the story to add or decorate my performance with Holmesisms if the script doesn’t suggest or examine them, such as playing the violin. It is mentioned in our version but I am not seen playing.
What makes this production different is that Holmes is dealing with a true set of events, so a real element of sensitivity and humanity is required. Also, Holmes has a love interest in this production (beautifully played by Lara Lemon). It has been great fun to explore how Holmes copes with an unknown element – a challenge even for him.
Dad wrote the play in the eighties for John Newman. Holmes was played by Francis Matthews and Watson by Frank Windsor. It is based on Stephen Knight’s theory The Final Solution. There have been two film versions of Holmes investigating the Ripper murders, A Study In Terror and Murder By Decree, plus, two novels The Last Sherlock Holmes Story’ and Dust And Shadow. I was surprised there weren’t more. Dad was a huge fan of Holmes and was a real crime aficionado and jumped at the chance of pitting the great detective against possibly the greatest murder mystery of all time. Dad always felt this marriage was like having the Nazis in your story – you automatically have a sense of real threat and impending doom.
To be playing Sherlock Holmes, written by the man who created such amazing characters such as John Steed, Emma Peel, Bodie and Doyle on stage every night has been a dream come true. I feel privileged to be both entertaining the public with a gift of a character and keeping the memory of my father alive.
Sherlock Holmes & The Ripper Murders is at Buxton Opera House, 24-26 August. To buy tickets or for more information call Buxton Opera House box office on 01298 72190 or book online at www.buxtonoperahouse.org.uk