Sherlock Holmes (article 11 september 1901)
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
Sherlock Holmes is an article published in The Sketch on 11 september 1901.
In defiance of threatened injunctions against the inventor and the authorised adapter of "Sherlock Holmes" by certain playwrights who had kindly "conveyed" the famous detective for their plays, Dr. Conan Doyle's and William Gillette's drama named after that crime-investigator has duly arrived at the Lyceum, London, after a week's trial-trip at one of the finest of provincial playhouses, namely, Hardie and Von Leer's Shakespeare Theatre, Liverpool.
In connecting Sherlock Holmes with the Lyceum, one naturally wonders why Sir Henry Irving never essayed this enormously popular character, for he would, in every histrionic way, have been an ideal Sherlock. One also marvels how it is that, although it is getting on for ten years since Dr. Conan Doyle treated his myriads of readers to this English Lecocq, no play upon the subject has been seen at the West-End until now. In the provinces one has ever and anon happened on a "Sherlock Holmes" drama. Moreover, in the suburbs as well as in the provinces the great detective has been used as the chief character in a lurid melodrama entitled "The Bank of England."
It is more than probable that the reason why an important "Sherlock Holmes" play has been so long a-coming is that the task of making a drama pieced out of Dr. Doyle's fascinating crime-investigating series of stories was found to be stupendous. The usual paste-and-scissors mutilator of novels felt himself baffled, so to speak, by the embarrassment of criminal riches provided by Sherlock's "creator."
Even that "creator" himself and his collaborator have evidently been in a similar predicament, for, casting aside all the most popular stories of the "Sherlock" series, they have contented themselves with basing a comparatively new play upon the story concerning Miss Faulkner, who was sometime shadowed by the soon afterwards slain but since resurrected crime-investigator.
But for the deeply fascinating study of Holmes which dominates the piece, it is very conventional melodrama indeed. From the moment that Holmes silently enters the drawing-room-robbery-and-murder den that forms the first Act "set." and stands like a stern and pitiless ghost confronting the evil-doers, this eight-months-old Irish-American-made melodrama becomes thrilling in the extreme, although for these days, when melodrama is mostly made up of several stories interwoven, "Sherlock Holmes" seems not too lavishly supplied with story.
The story of "Sherlock Holmes" runs as follows Alice Faulkner has contrived to secure certain "papers" implicating a mysteriously mentioned "person of title" who somewhat earlier ruined and deserted her sister, who ere long pined away and died. With the aid of these secured "papers," Alice intends to denounce the "person of title" to a rich young lady whom he is about to espouse. Before she can wreak her vengeance, however, Alice is herself "secured" by a scoundrel named James Larrabee and his equally wicked wife Madge. This terrible twain seek also to secure her precious "papers," in order that they may there-with blackmail the "person of title" for vast sums. Alice, however, in spite of being starved and otherwise maltreated, refuses to betray the hiding-place of these documents. When the dreaded Sherlock arrives upon the scene, he, after befouling Alice's teeth-gnashing persecutors, makes her betray the whereabouts of the "papers" by means of a little outbreak of fire, which he has arranged shall take place at the Larrabees'. Following Alice's startled look, he at once rips open the cushion of a certain chair and triumphantly snatches the "papers" therefrom. But, to the consternation of all concerned (including the audience), Holmes forthwith returns the "papers" to the ill-used girl, because site tearfully asks him, and because, as we shrewd friends in front can see, Sherlock is "smitten." It seems strange that he should thus nullify all his work in this connection, especially as the poor, half-demented damsel is still left in the power of the Larrabees. It has to be confessed, however, that, if Sherlock did not act thus magnanimously, not to say quixotically, this Doyle-Gillette "thriller" would incontinently end at the first Act.
The other three Acts of "Sherlock Holmes" are principally taken up by the revengeful efforts of the Larrabees to ensnare and to remove Sherlock by the aid of that arch-criminal, "Professor" Moriarty, and his mighty and ubiquitous crime-concern. Among other things, these fiendish plotters, worked by the "Professor" from his underground, prison-like "Office," send emissaries to slay Holmes at his Baker Street lodgings; next, they burn those lodgings down, and anon they lure him, by means of a duplicate set of "papers," to a "gas-chamber" in Stepney.
This scene, reminiscent of many a "bashing" den in melodrama — and the East-End — is, although conventional, the strongest in the play. Alice, now having learnt to love Sherlock — although she has never told her love — finds her way to this awful place, in order to warn him of his danger. The "bashers," who appear to be all Hibernian (another injustice to Ireland!), promptly gag her and conceal her from view. Presently Holmes arrives to bargain with Larrabee concerning the "papers," and is also promptly seized. Slinking himself free, however, and discovering Alice, lie, to cover his retreat with her, knocks over the lamp — rather an awkward thing to do in a "gas-chamber," one would think. As, at this moment, Holmes is, as usual, smoking — but smoking a cigar this time — his would-be murderers follow the red glow of his cigar in the Cimmerian darkness. Just, however, when they think they have got him, more lights are brought in, and it is seen that the glowing cigar supposed to be between Holmes's lips has been slipped into a hole near the door. Sherlock and Alice have escaped.