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Christmas Mysteries: A Sherlock Carol @MaryleboneTHLDN

A mash-up of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol and Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes would seem an unlikely pairing. Yet it provides a surprisingly fun Christmas-themed adventure. These two Victorian tales (albeit separated by about 40 years) provide the basis for an inspired adventure at Christmastime that just also happens to turn out to be a murder mystery as well. With lavish costumes, a few spooky set pieces and some good old-fashioned stage trickery with lights and a lot of smoke machines, it is hard to resist. It returns to the Marylebone Theatre for Christmas after a run there last year.  The premise is that after Holmes sees off the criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty, he is left adrift in London. People thought he was dead, and he might as well be. Disinterested in the misdeeds of other Londoners, Holmes has even given up on his friend Dr Watson. It's almost as if he has become a Scrooge. Or half a Scrooge, moping about shouting, "bah" in respon

Art and other urges: The Shape of Things @arcolatheatre

The Shape of Things, currently playing at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston is a smart and good looking production that captures the banality and earnestness of Neil Labute's high concept play of young love in a university town. Ten years on from its first presentation at the Almeida, it still is an interesting observation on people and relationships and art.

Or perhaps. The lady seated next to me who was an art historian was not particularly impressed by the analysis of art. She found Labute was getting things wrong. But coming out of the the theatre, my partner commented, "That's just how people act in my hometown." The mind started to boggle about the games people in his hometown play, but he thankfully clarified he mean that people once they get into relationships change and cut people out of their lives.

And this is what makes the piece fascinating. Its observations of the four characters and their interrelationships as they talk about love, sex and art. They are not monsters or caricatures but presented as young people making decisions that may turn out to have much bigger consequences.
The central premise of the play is about art student Evelyn meeting geeky Adam. After a few dates over a short period she starts encouraging him to change. He starts working out, dressing a bit smarter and taking better care of himself. But things start to become a little odd and complicated as his friends note that the changes are not necessarily for the better. For anyone that has not seen previous productions of the play or the movie it is tough not to go into further details about the play, but the piece remains intriguing and amusing throughout.

Anna Bamberger as Evelyn manages to deliver a compelling and sympathetic performance, dominating proceedings whenever she is on stage. Apart from being in incredibly big heels throughout the performance (which looked very painful), it seems like a difficult character to portray as Labute makes her ignorant yet she also needs to be resourceful and intelligent.

Sean McConaghy as Adam also manages to get the balance between being shy and nerdy and transforming into a more confident man under Evelyn's guidance. Séan Browne as Philip, Adam's more outgoing yet small-town minded friend, and Harrie Hayes as the mousy Jenny, Philips fiancee and former love interest of Adam's round out this great cast.

It is a smart looking production with a simple set that changes from scene to scene. Whether you have seen this show before or not, it is worth taking your partner (or someone you have an interest in) to see it to debate the merits of it. It runs at the Arcola until 21 December. 

Photo credits: production photos by Maximilien Spielbichler

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