The Ultimate Sleuth: An interview with Robert Powell

Mon 14 May

Theatre and TV veterans Robert Powell and Liza Goddard are reunited in a new version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic mystery, Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain which opens at the Rose tonight. We sat down with Robert to chat about touring, sleuthing and avoiding retirement at all costs.

Where do we find the great detective at the start of Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain?

He's retired and paranoid that he's losing whatever skills he had, then – without giving away the plot - he gets drawn into solving a new mystery by Mary Watson [played by Liza Goddard], the wife of his former partner.

What makes Simon Reade's script unique amongst Sherlock stories?

Well, there was a recent film [Mr Holmes] starring Ian McKellen as an older Sherlock Holmes but he was quite a benign old man. In this story he's a 70-year-old Sherlock who thinks the world is out to get him. In many ways he's hiding deep down in the heart of Sussex in his little cottage keeping bees because he thinks he's under threat.

Have you done any research to play this version of Holmes?

I've been around long enough to understand paranoia, loss of confidence and all those things, but it's not been necessary to do any research as the character is all there in the script. And I've played Sherlock before but that was in Sherlock Holmes: The Musical which of course was very different. I've also played Hercule Poirot but they're totally different characters. Poirot doesn't have any personal problems or he does but he won't acknowledge them. Holmes acknowledges all of his personal problems.

Would you be any good at sleuthing in real life?

It wouldn't appeal to me, not in the Sherlock Holmes mode anyway with the detail and minutiae of his detective work. I wouldn't have the patience.

How is it working again with Liza Goddard, with whom you starred in Single Spies and Relatively Speaking among other shows?

It's lovely. [Laughs] Neither of us can remember how many times we've worked together but I think this is the fifth. We've known each for such a long time, we're great friends and it makes life a lot easier when you're touring if you have a friend with you in the same show.

You've also worked with director David Grindley before on the likes of Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell and Single Spies. How is it collaborating with him again?

This is the third time I've worked with David now and he was my first choice to direct this. It's all about trust and that's especially important when you're doing a brand new play like this. I've worked out that this is the first time in 50 years that I have done a brand new play, rather than established shows or ones where somebody has cracked a role previously. When you've got a brand new play you have no idea until the first night whether it works or not – absolutely none – so it's vital to have that trust with your director.

What's the one thing you couldn't be on tour without?

It'd have to be my laptop and my iPad so I can do some work in my hotel if the weather is bad, but with this tour we're going into spring and summer and Liza and I are very good at going off to find castles and art galleries and that sort of stuff rather than sitting around all day.

At the beginning of the play, Sherlock is happily retired. Could you ever envision retiring yourself?

No, I won't ever retire as such. All that would happen is that I'd choose possibly to do less but I will never, ever close the door.

Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain opens tonight and runs until Sat 19 May. For more information click here

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