Death on the Thames: Conan Doyle’s writing rises again!

The latest theatre production at the Coulsdon Community Centre was good enough to have been a genuine Conan Doyle. ALLISON MACKENZIE joined an audience that was transfixed by the performers, and by the staging

Death off the Nile: Indianna Scorziello as Seferukhare, astride the unfortunate Capt Carey (Tom Phasey), as masked Anubis looks on

I had to check carefully when I got home after the performance. Sherlock Holmes and the Sons of Anubis, which was staged last week by the Theatre Workshop Coulsdon, really is an original story written by a member of the company, Richard Lloyd, and not the work of the genuine Conan Doyle.

It was both masterful and convincing.

Stepping into this cosy theatre for the first time, instantly I noticed the scene-setting attention to detail – from the tickets, programme and graphic posters to the low, warm lighting reminiscent of an oil lamp glow – we slid into the 19th century and were primed for a ride around Victorian London, observing the high life and the low lifes.

Elementary: Rory Curnock Cook and John East as Holmes and Watson

The play starts us off in the Oriental Club, where we first establish the connections between some uptight toffs and their archaeological dig, and start to understand there may be repercussions from unearthing the dead…

Mark Taylor portrays beautifully the unlikable, supercilious, and eventually rattled Lord Caerphilly, and we also meet fellow patron Captain Carey (Thomas Phasey), whose classy performance intermingled well with the older characters while showing a touch of vulnerability which left us very much hoping he’d survive the “curse”.

This is also when we first meet Dr John Watson. John East’s portrayal is perfectly pitched as the classic sidekick, his calmness challenged several times by the “difficult” women he encounters – giving us some fabulous verbal sparring.

We settle in with a whisky, served by a marvellous cameo from Christopher Argles as the bar steward, to find proceedings are rudely interrupted by the suave, mysterious Afzul Azad – perfectly attired in the classic white suit, with his eyes suspiciously hidden behind dark glasses – a sharp contrast to the other fusty clientele. Joe Wilson completely embodied this enigmatic role throughout the play – his accent impeccable and the excellent plot kept the audience guessing throughout as to his true identity.

A bit of Needle: protestors Lauren Edmonds as Mrs Allbrighton, Fran Auletta as Mrs Crabwell, Rosie Martin as Lady Mountjoy and Daisy Worby as Florazel Day

One cursed scarab later and we can tell that there may be some higher forces at play.

Before we leave the club and move on, I must mention one integral part of the play – the set.

Initially the blank backdrop, colour reminiscent of clotted cream crust, seemed a little underwhelming considering the appropriate vintage chairs and bar. However, it was swiftly apparent this was no such simple wall, it was integral to the metamorphosis of each location, using clever partitioning and coloured lighting it deftly transported us from ancient tombs to the Baker Street parlour via the banks of Thames and back again.

The Undead: Indianna Scorziello as Seferukhare

The foreground offered a thoughtful combination of rich ruby reds and sage greens echoed both in leather furniture, excellent costumes and delightful props, and finally the sound effects and background music completed the layering – subtly complementing the action and supporting the narrative with the occasional thump and scream.

It’s not too long before we are introduced to Sherlock. Rory Curnock Cook was exceptional – his performance had the gravitas, intelligence and aloofness one expects. By the end, Cook was so established in the role, one would eagerly anticipate further instalments featuring this lead.

Within the safe confines of the parlour, the amusing passive-aggressive interactions between Mrs Hudson (Dawn Ford) and Holmes were a joy to observe. The subtle raised eyebrow and knowing smirk made it clear who had the upper hand at 221B Baker Street.

We now discover that from the six aristocrats at the Egyptian dig, three have died mysteriously, and with one already feeling itchy thanks to the scarab, there is a suggestion of foul play. Soon we meet one more of the explorers, the suspiciously defensive Count Lorenzo Barazzi, solidly played by Paul Ford delivering some storming monologues, which provide the audience with some much-appreciated backstory.

We are led to Cleopatra’s Needle, to meet the “LADS” – the seemingly innocent ladies who may protest a little too much. Most enjoyable clear convincing performances from Lauren Edmonds as Mrs Allbrighton and Francesca Auletta as Mrs Crabwell, boldly defending the rights of the ancient.

Dramatic twist: Daisy Worby as firebrand Florazel Day and Joe Wilson as the enigmatic Afzul Azad

Rosie Martin as the matriarch, Lady Mountjoy, gave a slightly apprehensive performance – however maybe that’s because she had much to hide! Kudos to all for repeated use of a plethora of complicated Egyptian names – veritable tongue twisters that did not faze this group one bit.

Fellow protestor, Daisy Worby, had one of the most complicated roles and she absolutely nailed this multi-faceted haunting performance – from opinionated but vexed firebrand to hypnotised muse – her clear voice shone out on stage and her physicality was perfect.

Next on to the whorehouse, where Caerphilly is most compromisingly dead, and we encounter Penny Payne’s joyously rough Mrs Bligh, all proper Victorian Music Hall bawdiness, beautifully exaggerated gestures with incredible stage presence.

Of course, with a murder comes the salt of the earth Inspector Lestrade, played by Jamie Russell with a warm engaging tone, acutely aware that the police are already several steps behind Holmes in the chase for a killer.

The chasing takes us to London’s slums where we meet Hannah Montgomery, an absolute scene-stealer as prostitute Marie Kelly, with her rolling eyes and cheeky actions (hide your whisky!).

Indianna Scorziello enters the play quite late in the day – when we think we’ve got the measure of who’s who – she wakes us up to the fact there are even more layers to the plot and her confident sexy Harriet Snapcase is just the ticket to ruffle some feathers. Scorziello does not disappoint later, continuing with a strong depiction of the risen again queen building the plot to a crescendo.

Mark Taylor’s return to the stage as the unkempt curator, Professor Marchmont, provided an interlude that had the audience guffawing.

The whole experience was excellent – the play totally enthralling, combined with the warm welcome by the front of house team (some delicious mulled wine and the last of the buttered hot cross buns went down very well).

But what really cemented this evening was the cast spilling out into the adoring audience after the curtains fell, it was apparent what a true community gem Theatre Workshop Coulsdon is. I will definitely be back.

Become a Patron!


About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Coulsdon, Theatre, Theatre Workshop Coulsdon and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply