Review: Sherlock Holmes and the Hooded Lance, by Pat Whymark and Julian Harries, Common Ground Theatre Company, touring, then New Wolsey Studio until January 13

Sherlock Holmes and The Hooded Lance. Holmes (Julian Harries) and Dr Watson (Dick Mainwaring) encoun

Sherlock Holmes and The Hooded Lance. Holmes (Julian Harries) and Dr Watson (Dick Mainwaring) encounter the mysterious residents of a lonely Suffolk manor house (Patrick Neyman, Emily Bennett and Joe Leat) in the Common Ground Christmas Show which is now touring. Photo: Pat Whymark - Credit: Archant

When it comes to Christmas shows, the team of Pat Whymark and Julian Harries have form – good form. They started their partnership writing and performing in the Eastern Angles Christmas shows and have now struck out on their own.

With most theatres starting their festive celebrations in the first week of December (or earlier), Pat and Julian’s Christmas epic is the last one to hit the county’s stages but it is well worth the wait.

This year the pair have returned to a literary favourite Sherlock Holmes. The great detective has served them well in the past and this latest silly mystery, unmasking the identity of The Hooded Lance, proves to be a hugely entertaining three pipe problem.

Harries returns as Holmes, giving the legendary sleuth both the necessary air of self-absorbed gravitas and a roguish twinkle in his eye. Common Ground have developed a talented and wonderfully adaptable stock company over the years. Having worked together in a series of diverse projects, the team of Dick Mainwaring, Joe Leat and Patrick Neyman, have fun creating a bewildering array of surreal supporting characters.

Dick Mainwaring’s main role is bringing to life the overly enthusiastic Dr Watson, a man who just lives for Christmas, while Joe Leat makes Chief Inspector Le’ Opard, Scotland Yard’s greatest plodder and Patrick Neyman is, among many things a narcissistic Mycroft Holmes and various members of the von Shoehorn family. Leat and Neyman also have great fun playing the eccentric Janus twins locked away in their remote Suffolk mansion.

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The new addition to the Common Ground family this year is actor-musician Emily Bennett who plays everything from Holmes’ housekeeper Mrs Hodson to Wiggins, the Baker Street irregular, and a series of semi-demonic governesses and nurses. Her character-driven singing and ability to put over a song highlights the clever comedy in Whymark’s lyrics.

As with all Common Ground shows the cast have huge fun creating comedy gold by turning old school theatrical devices on their heads. Who needs digital projection when a fight to the death on top of Big Ben can be brought to life with puppets?

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Whymark and Harries have created so many great Christmas memories that they have given themselves a huge legacy to live up to. However, they have no need to worry, this year’s offering is one of their best. Hugely entertaining and played by a group of actors who are clearly having as much fun as the audience, it’s a real seasonal treat. Catch it if you can, you won’t regret it.

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