THE play based on Conan Doyle’s The Valley of Fear, featuring the iconic Sherlock Holmes and his faithful colleague Dr Watson, will keep you focused, if only trying to follow a convoluted plot

Five extremely versatile actors bring to life 20 different characters across a generational timespan in a dual narrative taking in Holmes famous abode at 221B Baker Street, a moated manor house somewhere in Kent and across the pond to the coal-rich state of Pennsylvania where a violent and corrupt secret society carry out their dirty work in the bleak Vermissa Valley.

Nick Lane, who has adapted Conan Doyle’s sweeping novel for the stage, also directs this production for Bracknell’s Black-Eyed Theatre in association with South Hill Park.

It is touring the UK until May; this week that super sleuth is to be found at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford with upcoming dates at: Haymarket, Basingstoke (January 26 to 28) and MAST Studios, Southampton (February 2 to 4).

The set designed by Victoria Spearing is a stark single wooden construction with minimum props, but atmospheric lighting and a misty background conjures up gloomy Victorian England as well as America’s bleak Vermissa Valley.

An encoded missive is received at Holmes abode at 221B Baker Street warning of the imminent danger to one John Douglas of Birlstone House in Kent.

Holmes and Watson are puzzling over the matter when Scotland Yard’s Inspector MacDonald arrives to announce that the gentleman in question has been brutally murdered – shot in the face by a sawn off shotgun.

He asks for help, although Holmes is convinced his old adversary, criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty, is behind this gruesome murder. Holmes and Watson are immediately on their way to Birlstone House and the game is afoot.

Surprisingly, Moriarity actually makes an appearance in this adaptation, which did not happen in the original book and will probably upset the Sherlock purists.

The novel comprises two separate shorter story sequences, the first relating to the events in Birlstone House and the second covering Mr Douglas’ dubious earlier life with the dastardly criminals of Vermissa Valley.

However, in his adaptation Nick Lane presents the narrative sequentially, relying on Dr Watson to narrate both timelines. The change of time and location are done in double quick time with members of the cast used to move around the props while the audience are treated to a medley of songs and music.

Luke Barton is splendid as the young Sherlock exploiting his self-confidence and intellectual superiority, especially when it comes to his sidekick Dr Watson, who is no dimbo, just a nicely laid-back chap to provide an antidote to Holmes’ restlessness nature . An outstanding and versatile performance from Joseph Derrington as the tweed-clad rotund Watson.

Both actors work well together, reprising their roles in Blackeyed Theatre’s last Sherlock Holmes’ production, The Sign of Four.

If The Valley of Fear asks a lot of its cast, playing 20 different roles with ever changing venues, accents and dialects, so it does of the audience who have to keep a hold on characters, countries and plot with many a twist and turn. Exhausting, but you will not fall asleep,

The other cast members Blake Kubena , Alice Osmanski and Gavin Molloy, playing three, five and six different characters, are right up there. Alice Osmanski effortlessly takes on all the female roles whatever their age or status. Even Luke Barton and Joseph Derrington have to metamorphose a couple of times.

The Valley of Fear will be at the Yvonne Theatre until this Saturday so bag a seat if you can. This adaptation will require some concentration, but it is worth the effort. Visit the Arnaud’s website at or ring the box office on 01483 440000.