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Monday, 15 June 2020

Sherlock the Musical: what might have been.


I wanted to write this blog last September. Upon reflection, it’s been for the best that I waited until now. After nine months, my rage about what happened to Das Sherlock Musical (https://uraniatheater.de/project/das-sherlock-musical/) has burned itself out, and has given way to sadness.

A little over eighteen months ago, in November 2018, I sat in the Urania Theatre in Koln and waited, in a fever of tension, for the reaction of a packed opening night house.

Our production team of four had worked long and hard, against a ridiculously tight deadline, to create a more or less workable show, from scratch, in the few short months since we first convened in the spring of that year. We had a good cast, a reasonable story, some great songs, and – against all odds - a decent set of special effects constrained by, but also tailored to the needs of, a low-budget 150-seat theatre in the suburbs.

What we lacked, as opening night approached, was a really rousing finale. In that regard, both the songs and the story needed work. And we knew it. Hence the first-night nerves.

However, in the world of theatre the improbable does sometimes happen. And the miracle that chilly evening was that the audience seemed to love the show. They laughed at the jokes, clapped each scene enthusiastically, stamped their feet and tried to sing along to the songs. When the curtain came down (that’s a metaphor: the Urania doesn’t run to such adornments) they walked out smiling.
After the bows, the flowers, the congratulatory drinks in the foyer, we looked at each other and grinned in disbelief. We’d done it. All we needed now was to write a better ending, perhaps add a scene here, a song there, and we would be ready to hit the road with a decent show.

It wasn’t long before the cracks started to appear. First, there were complaints about the songs. They were too cheerful, too cheap. And the story: not dark enough, lacking in conflict. And, of course, the cast were in the firing line. One by one, they would be condemned as inadequate.

There followed a long period of uncertainty. During that time the technical director and the music director were replaced, in an atmosphere of vitriolic animosity. The new team worked on further rewrites. Whatever the virtues of the changes that we made, it became clear that, week by week and month by month, we were losing our sense of cohesion and, crucially, of goodwill.

I will not go too far into that unpleasantness, nor the explosion of anger that precipitated my own withdrawal in September 2019, immediately after we launched the re-shaped show. In part, I am governed by caution and the possibility of litigation. More than that, I never think about Sherlock now without being overcome by weariness. In any case, I have moved on, preoccupied with new projects far removed from the quirky world of stage musicals.

The other day, however, I read a report about the return of Sherlock to our TV screens. Series 5. I paused for a moment and felt a wave of sadness wash over me.

But for the obsession of one person, who sought total control; who responded too readily to outside criticisms; who too easily took offence and retreated behind a defensive trench; who employed a simple tactic, over and over, in order not to pay people who had sweated blood for the show (‘you’re rubbish and I am firing you’), but for all that, we might still be a going concern. And, with the TV Sherlock returning to the headlines, we would once more have been topical. Who knows, we might even have made a few pfennigs after close to two years of working for zilch. But that will not be. Our original creation is no more than a shrivelled corpse rotting in someone else’s memory.
As I say, it’s all very sad. And, more than that, entirely unnecessary.

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