It’s that time of year again… June marks TheatreFEST in Raleigh! And, this year, NC State University Theatre offers an enticing production of Holmes and Watson at Titmus Theatre on campus in Thompson Hall.

Written by Jeffrey Hatcher in Arthur Conan Doyle‘s world of the popular fictional detective, this mystery unfolds three years after Sherlock Holmes is presumed dead following an altercation with Professor Moriarty at the Falls of Reichenbach. Holmes’ body was never found, and Dr. John Watson (Gus Allen) receives a message from an asylum where three men claim to be the missing Holmes. Thrusted into the spellbinding story, the audience follows Watson through his analysis of the three patients as well as Dr. Evans (Dan Oliver), the orderly (Justin Brent Johnson), and the matron of the asylum (Katie Barrett) to answer a multitude of questions: Who is the real Holmes? How did he survive the fall at Reichenbach? And how did these charlatans end up at the asylum?

As any good mystery does, Holmes and Watson casts shadows of doubt on each character’s identity and the truth of their stories. With a sound detective demeanor, Allen’s Watson cleverly investigated his surroundings, scrutinized each and every detail, and hatched a plan to solve the mystery. In the obstinate conversations between Watson and Dr. Evans regarding the secretive nature of the asylum in an old lighthouse on an island off the coast of Scotland, Allen and Oliver boasted a fabulous rapport. In a skillful delivery of quips and remarks, each character communicates they are indeed withholding information pertinent to the case while forcing the other to yield in some way and unveil the story of the woman (also Barrett) and the inspector (also Johnson) that set the plot in motion. The duo’s animated debates are punctuated with interrogations of the patients alleging to be Holmes. 

Holmes 1 (Ryan Lim) is confident and egotistical in his defense, offering proof of his being Holmes and suggesting that Professor Moriarty simply walked off the edge of the rock without a word. In his self-assurance, Lim was sly and witty. In his straightjacket, Holmes 2 (Jackson Griffin) testifies that he murdered Professor Moriarty. Beautifully conveying nervous paranoia and emotion resulting from the murder, Griffin had a spectacular performance from start to end. In opposition to Holmes 2’s bursts of emotional despair, Holmes 3 (Daryl Ray Carliles) is decreed deaf, blind, and mute by Dr. Evans, only identified as the possible Holmes by a tag around his neck. Carliles was smug and evocative without words in the first act, convincing the majority of this sold-out crowd that he was the real Holmes in the vote during the intermission! 

I cannot detail much more about the plot without saying too much… I wouldn’t want to wreck the thrill of solving the mystery in real time!

Directed by Mia Self, the cast of Holmes and Watson tells a thrilling story, spinning the traditional “whodunnit” into more of a “whoisit.” The large, hazy set designed by Jayme Mellema features a turning floor, dark cells, and an eerie suspended lighthouse fit for the suspenseful narrative. Led in lighting and sound design by Patrick Mathis and technical direction from David Jensen, storms invaded the stage and lighting made distinctions between real-time events and recounts of the fateful moment at the Falls of Reichenbach. I must also commend Laura J. Parker for her costume, hair, and makeup design; from the dapper suits to the striped patient uniforms, the costumes were tasteful and functional, bold enough to stand out and subdued enough to never distract from the tangled plot and the audience’s attempt to determine the real Holmes.

Holmes and Watson is a tantalizing mystery that everyone can enjoy. You won’t hear any more of the story from me because I’ll give no spoilers, but I invite you to take your shot at guessing who the real Sherlock Holmes is. Despite that I have read a few Agatha Christie novels and watched Scooby Doo as a young girl, I have never (not once!) solved a mystery and this one was no different. However, Holmes and Watson is a memorable mystery—the whole theater ooh-ed and aah-ed heartily with the final twists. No matter if you are an avid Arthur Conan Doyle fan or someone to whom the name Sherlock Holmes is just vaguely familiar, this riveting mystery is full of that “whodunnit” spirit that keeps you on your toes and almost always brings about some variation of the phrase “Oh, I should have known it was him!”

Holmes and Watson continues through Sunday, June 11. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.

The production’s full digital playbill may be viewed HERE

TheatreFEST presents a plethora of festivities throughout the month of June including the [title of show] musical production, a night of 10-minute plays made in 72 hours, an afternoon of learning at the TheatreFESTival open house on June 10, and more! To learn more about these performances and exciting opportunities, please visit the TheatreFEST homepage and the 2023 TheatreFEST playbill.