At first you assume Lesley Harts play is a straight adaptation of A Study in Scarlet the first of Arthur Conan Doyles novels about Sherlock Holmes. True there is something of the National Theatre of Brent about the enterprise; in Marc Smalls outdoor production it is down to just two actors to play not only the consulting detective and his sidekick John Watson but also an assortment of coppers kids and corpses. It is funny in its overweening ambition blood like tomato ketchup and all.
It does make a decent stab at telling the story though. This is the one about the body found in Brixton the word rache written on the wall and the ring that lures the possible culprit.Yet something else is askew. It transpires that Harry Deirdre Davis and Ash Tom Richardson have performed this script a lot. An awful lot. This is their 183rd time. Apparently no one has ever seen them do it and yet they continue. By the end of the play they are up to 286. In their neurotic repetition they recall the characters in Enda Walsh plays such as The Walworth Farceand The New Electric Ballroom as if by running through their script time and again they will be able to make sense of the chaotic world outside. That world appears to have suffered an environmental catastrophe leaving them stranded on a barren rock even if the lush vegetation around us on the amphitheatre stage suggests otherwise.
Maybe its time we told ourselves a different story they suggest but A Study in Scarlet is the only one they have got and they must lean on its clever puzzle solving and knotty American backstory in the vain hope of finding meaning for their lives. It is as if in adapting the novel Hart has faced a double crisis first about the limitations of theatre and second about the limitations of the story itself.If she has a connection in mind between Holmess thread of murder Ashs former job as a haematologist and the blood related illness ravaging Harrys body she does not fully explain the link. Davis and Richardson give bright and entertaining performances but for all its ambition the play has too many stories to tell.