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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

[title of show]: [Blank] @DonmarWarehouse

From 100 scenes that run over 500 pages comes [Blank], which is currently running at the Donmar Warehouse. It’s a do it yourself play by Alice Birch where the production can choose the number of scenes and the order of them. Thumbing through the play text, I first assumed it would be an epic night out at the theatre. Thankfully Director Maria Aberg has chosen thirty of them, and the end result is an evocative and emotional journey of women on the margins of society. Or at least that’s what it seemed to me. It becomes a do-it-yourself play for the audience too as you begin to piece together the various characters before and start making connections about what you’re seeing.

And as windows smash, crockery breaks or salty pasta gets eaten, what emerges are the struggles of a range of different women who find themselves in circumstances they cannot escape from. Women in prison, or a refuge, or selling themselves to get by. In the light of the #metoo era, which is hilariously put down as a “revolution on twitter” it’s a thought-provoking piece.

This could be a worthy topic for a night at the theatre, but there is a lot of warmth and humour in the piece, aided by a strong all-female ensemble that includes Shona Babayemi and Joanna Horton.

There are the two girls in foster care setting new ground rules and debating the merits of keeping all your possessions in carrier bags to the outreach worker rehearsing how to tell a mother her daughter died. Each scene serves to underscore the plight of women, particularly those in the criminal justice system, in a sensitive yet realistic way.

Things come to a head at a dinner party with a bunch of affluent liberal women. While talking about how their lives were changed, volunteering for 10 days at an orphanage in South America among plates of clafoutis and lines of coke, their privilege and virtue signalling is challenged with devastating effect.

A provocative view on whether it’s possible to escape poverty, violence and liberal platitudes. Directed by Maria Aberg, [Blank] is at the Donmar Warehouse until 30 November.


Photos by Helen Maybanks

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