Hudson and Watson: Confusion on stage

Hudson an Watson and the Mystery of the Blue Diamond. Photo by Sam Spiller

With the subheading of “Confusion on stage”, one might expect me to be referring to the plot of Hudson and Watson and the Mystery of the Blue Diamond, and the shared emotion between performer and audience as we wind our way down this perplexing path. Sadly though, the subheading refers more to the production itself, rather than what it is comprised.

With that said, there is a lot in the production that it is be enjoyed. Brought to us by Stephanie Jenkins and Sibling Rivalry Productions, and starring Jenkins, Sibahle Sibiya, Khwezi Becker and Qhawe Vumase, Hudson and Watson is a reimagined tale adapted from the famous fictional work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

There is a twist to this tale, however, wherein it is not from the perspective of, nor concerns the infamous detective Sherlock Holmes and his assistant Dr. John Watson. Rather, it was from Watson’s wife Mary and Holmes’ housekeeper, Mrs Hudson.

In late 19th century Durban, a murder has taken place. Holmes is down with malaria, and the good doctor is out on call, so the task of solving this case is taken up by these two extraordinary women. Narrated by Mrs Hudson (played by Sibiya) after the fact, the two dive headfirst into the mystery, involving a blue jewel from the mines of Kimberley, and a host of suspicious characters.

(from left to right) Qhawe Vumase, Sibahle Sibiya and Stephanie Jenkins are all wrapped up in a mystery surrounding a blue jewel. Photo by Sam Spiller

Now, big points must be awarded for a story that gives a fresh take on Doyle’s universe, as adaptations of this material reach far and wide and across countless mediums. Hudson and Mary have almost always been in the periphery, and it is very nice to see them appear front and center.

Sibiya and Jenkins have excellent chemistry, with Sibiya, though portraying the role with the to-be-expected South African twist. Sibiya gives an outstanding performance of the no-nonsense housekeeper. She is a joy to watch, and we as the audience is very happy to listen to her story.

The rest of the cast also do a very good job. Becker and Vumase are left breathless trying to portray multiple characters, some of which have to be on stage at the same time. This plays into the greater structure of the show, which is also a big plus.

Making use of musical cues, shadow puppetry and a rough-around-the-edges execution, Hudson and Watson exploits its logistical shortcomings to its advantages. It delivers a narrative with a decent twist, something that most mysteries struggle to fully achieve, combined with likeable characters and a corny atmosphere.

Like any role, playing a dead body can be challenging. Just ask Qhawe Vumasa, as pictured. Photo by Sam Spiller

So, why do I claim that there is confusion to be found on stage not in relation to the actual story?

The show’s self-classification is something to be questioned, and there remains within it an aura of missed opportunity.

Hudson and Watson is a fun watch, but it fails to venture far into the realms of comedy. Sibiya will get you to smile and chuckle once in a while, but the story, for the most part, is played quite straight. I highly suspect that the age classification of All Ages has a great influence on what could have been gotten away with on stages, because the story does allow for a great number of humorous scenarios. So, if not for the comedy, what about for the theatre?

The story is pretty stagnant in how far deep it delves into its circumstances. The characters, while engaging and well-acted, are cliche in terms of mystery narratives, and do little to heighten it from just being Sherlock Holmes in South Africa.

I guess I left Hudson and Watson wanting more than what I got. People will definitely enjoy it, and I think young kids especially will respond well to it (despite the murder and all that), but it does little to advance theatre, and I’m not sure it’s as funny as it thinks it is.

By Sam Spiller