Sherlock Holmes – The Sign of Four comes to South Hill Park Arts Centre’s Wilde Theatre on Wed 26 – Fri 28 Sept. Director Nick Lane tells us more about the adaptation of Sherlock Holmes’ The Sign of Four
How did you approach adapting The Sign of Four?
I approached the adaptation of this novella very carefully! I wanted to get the elements of a good procedural thriller in there, and also I was keen on retaining the essence of Holmes; his unusual manner, his relationship with Watson and so on. This is one of the early novels – it’s the second full length book after A Study in Scarlet – so Holmes and Watson’s relationship is in its early stages, I’d say – they’re still young men, so I wanted to capture that friendship without it being too stale and stuffy. I also think that quite often Holmes can be presented as pastiche and I didn’t want to do that – he’s an easy character to send up I’d have thought – so maybe I just like making the job harder for myself!
For you, what’s the key factor of a great Sherlock Holmes story?
The friendship between these men is a key element. I was keen on getting across how fond of one another these two men are, despite their obvious differences. Again I think it’s probably an easy trap to fall into to portray Watson as a bit of a buffoon – comic relief, almost. It’s never how I’ve seen him – not only is he our narrator (since all the stories are written from his unique perspective), he’s also a man with significant medical knowledge. I’d liken it to getting into Oxford to study Physics only to find that your lab partner is Stephen Hawking!
Tell us how you see the main characters.
In selecting our cast, we have to draw out key aspects of each character. With Holmes, it’s a measure of coolness – he’s not lacking in passion; he just hides it remarkably well behind his intellect. Watson is almost the opposite – he is a man who cannot hide his emotions; they often guide his actions. You’re also looking to find two actors that gel together well. Mary Morstan, who brings the case to the pair… she becomes Mary Watson in future stories, and it’d be easy to relegate her to the role of damsel in distress – Doyle again doesn’t focus a huge amount on her in this book – but I was looking for someone with spirit – someone who wore their heart on their sleeve just as openly as Watson does. I’d say those were the three main characters
In what other ways have you diverged from the source material?
The origins of the crime in The Sign of Four are rooted in the Indian rebellion of 1857; a time when British Colonial rule was brutal, draconian and cruel. Of course Doyle was writing for a Victorian readership who didn’t take quite such a revisionist view but I wanted to give the characters, and thereby the audience, a sense that they at least were aware of what was going on and didn’t like it. You run the risk, doing something like that, of veering too far away from the source material so it’s a fine line; how far do you go, how much do you say and so on. I’d like to think it works – the chapter with the reveal is the longest in the book and we’ve honoured that… and at the same time deepened one of the relationships in this version as well as offering further motivation for the crime.
Why do you think Sherlock Holmes remains so prominent in popular culture?
I’ve always been a fan of crime fiction and I love detail and nuance in character – Doyle provides both expertly. The relationships are beautifully crafted and the cases leave you exactly where Watson is; marvelling at Holmes’ logic (and equally fascinated by how Doyle created the mysteries in the first place). This text really does stand the test of time. I think that as long as people remain fascinated by human weakness and the tendency to turn to crime to suit a criminal’s ends there will always be a place for Sherlock Holmes. His emotionless logic and whiplash intelligence will always cut through the emotions of crime.
What should audiences expect?
Blackeyed Theatre often use an ensemble cast, with the few actors playing multiple roles. We also like to use music in interesting ways. This production will blend recorded and live sound, which I’m really excited about – we’ve played around with a couple of ways in which we use the music and incorporate it into the story and I think we’re there now. As for the ensemble cast, Holmes and Watson largely only play themselves but the other actors are required to play a variety of other characters, and they are more than capable of that! I want to give audiences an exciting evening of high quality theatre. It will be stylish, slick, fast-moving and include one or two surprises!
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More About Nick Lane
Nick started his career as an actor until a car accident damaged his back and brought his acting career to a premature end. After that he turned to writing and directing. From 2006-2014 he was the Associate Director and Literary Manager of Hull Truck Theatre, a company with which he has had a long association.
Nick adapted The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr Hyde for Blackeyed Theatre in 2017, and previously for Hull Truck and Theatre Mill. Other adaptations include The Wakefield Mysteries (Theatre Royal Wakefield), Frankenstein, Lady Chatterley’s Lover (Hull Truck) and 1984 (Northern Broadsides), as well as a co-adaptation of Moby Dick for Hull Truck with his friend John Godber. Original adult plays include: The Derby McQueen Affair (York Theatre Royal), My Favourite Summer (Hull Truck), Blue Cross Xmas (Hull Truck), Me & Me Dad (Hull Truck), Housebound (Reform), Seconds Out (Reform), Royal Flush and Odd Job Men (Rich Seam Theatre).
Nick is also an accomplished children’s playwright – his credits include: A Christmas Carol, Beauty & The Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Snow Queen (Hull Truck); Pinocchio (SJT); Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood (York Theatre Royal); The Elves & The Shoemaker (Hereford Courtyard); and Hansel & Gretel (Pilot). His original work for children includes the acclaimed Ginger Jones and the Sultan’s Eye (Polka/ Drum Theatre Plymouth/ York Theatre Royal), ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas, When Santa Got Stuck in the Fridge and A Christmas Fairytale (Hull Truck).
Plays that Nick has directed include The Glass Menagerie, Departures, Life’s A Beach, Studs, Beef, Amateur Girl, Lucky Sods and Ring Around the Humber (Hull Truck), April in Paris, Two, September in the Rain and Little Italy (York Theatre Royal).