The Soho Theatre’s proximity to Oxford Street creates a trap. If you find yourself arriving three hours early for a production, the allure of the seemingly sky-scraping maze of commodities is hard to resist. Come quarter to eight, a desperate charge could be necessary to avoid missing what you actually came into London for. In my case, this was Ditto Productions’ ‘Max and Ivan are Holmes & Watson’, directed by Jessica Ransom, fresh from various fringe festivals and prepped for a brief stint in the Soho Theatre Upstairs.
Arriving at the theatre in a sweaty and breathless consumerist haze, you must still brave the upward trek to the performance area. The Upstairs theatre itself can be off-putting at first, being a cramped and primitive black box space with uncomfortable seating, but patience leads to an understanding of how such an environment can highlight the talent of the performers. The absence of set or props meant there was no distraction from Max and Ivan’s infectious energy and comic timing. The simplicity was a refreshing antidote to the blinding materialism only one street away.
Even the programme for the show tickles your funny bone, but what follows when the lights go down is a rollercoaster of cheeky, modern, intelligent, Armstrong & Miller-esque, boyish, but certainly not laddish, hilarity. (Jessica Ransom, as it happens, is also associated with The Armstrong and Miller Show.) The bond between Max Olesker and Ivan Gonzalez is obvious; their consistent multi-role-playing led to a particularly memorable scene with two couples at war with each other, where fast-paced gender-swapping and conversations with themselves left the audience reeling. Any crushing fatigue that may have settled after trudging through Debenhams soon dissipated.
Gonzalez displayed an aptitude for playing less than savoury female characters, including the showgirl heroine with a lisp, ‘Austerity Christmas’. But it was his fabulously repulsive woman of the night, ‘Dusty Cervix’, who preyed on an unsuspecting male member of the audience in a manner that I feel would have been sadly discouraged in the more conventional theatre downstairs. Once again it became apparent how the space complemented the style of the show.
There were occasions when the plot and sometimes the characters were confused. An abundance of ‘bad guys’ such as Moriarty and what seemed to be an Octopus blended into each other as the location of the action switched rapidly. But these moments of befuddlement were brief and did not affect my enjoyment of the experience.
Despite the flood of Holmes and Watson variants currently available to voyeurs, this duo are still worth seeing. Resist the bright, flashing temptation of Oxford Street and your evening will benefit considerably. However, if you are a young man who would prefer to avoid the interest of Dusty Cervix, I would not sit in the front row.