A NEW Sherlock Holmes adventure is to have its world premiere in Henley.
The play, called Sherlock Holmes and the Canary Girls, will be performed for 10 nights at the Kenton Theatre and then probably transfer to the West End.
It is being co-produced by Ed Simons, chairman of the Kenton trustees, and his friend and long-time collaborator Kent Walwin. They have been producing films together for 25 years.
The play is set in London in 1916, almost 30 years after the Jack the Ripper murders.
Holmes and his assistant Dr Watson are enlisted by the Government to investigate a series of killings which, if left unsolved, could cost Britain the war.
The victims are the women who made TNT shells for the war effort and whose skin would turn orange-yellow after repeated exposure to chemicals, earning them their nickname the “Canary Girls”.
Mr Walwin, 68, said: “The girls are murdered in a similar way to the murders carried out by Jack the Ripper, which raises the question is Jack back?”
Mr Simons, 68, of Wargrave Road, Henley, said: “This is something we have always wanted to do.
“The demand for Sherlock Holmes stories is everywhere now and we felt this was an opportunity to feature Holmes and Dr Watson in a more traditional way at a slightly later stage of their lives when they are in their early sixties.
“It takes place during the First World War and with this year marking the centenary we thought the timing was very relevant.” The story idea came from Mr Walwin after he bought an office in Crispin Street near the site of the last Ripper murder.
He said: “My interest in Jack the Ripper was sparked when I was in my office one winter evening and saw flashes from cameras taking pictures outside. I went out and spoke to someone who told me it was a very famous building.
“The office is opposite a car park which was a dosshouse called Miller Court in 1888, where Marie Kelly, who was said to be the last victim of Jack the Ripper, was found.
“There is still a sign on the building which says ‘Donovan Brothers, Makers of Paper Bags’ where Jack the Ripper was said to have visited after that final murder.
“It occurred to me that Sherlock Holmes would have been a detective at the time of the Ripper murders but for some reason there has never been a storyline where he investigated them.” The characters of Holmes and Watson made headlines recently when a court in America ruled they were in the public domain.
The last copyright on Arthur Conan Doyle’s work in Britain expired at the end of 2000.
Sherlock Holmes and the Canary Girls was written specially by John Urling Clark and Keith Digby.
Mr Walwin said he hoped the play would mark the start of a new Sherlock Holmes franchise, similar to the Guy Ritchie films starring Robert Downey Jnr and the BBC series with Benedict Cumberbatch.
“It’s a really exciting play,” he said. “I hope it’s going to be a really big thing for Henley.
“We have already seen Benedict Cumberbatch as a younger Sherlock Holmes set in modern times and Robert Downey Jnr in a more action-packed version. Now we have them in middle age in a way that is more true to Conan Doyle’s vision. It’s about two incredibly close friends, one of whom is by no stretch of the imagination a genius.”
Mr Simons said he hoped the show would move to London.
He said: “Competition is very fierce in the West End but we have had some initial discussions and the idea has been very well received so it all depends on the final package we put together.”
Mr Simons and Mr Walwin have produced many films together including Midnight in St Petersburg and Bullet to Beijing, which starred Michael Caine as spy Harry Palmer.
They also produced the 1994 film Nostradamus and are currently working on Absolutely Anything, featuring Monty Python star Terry Jones.
The proceeds from two of the Henley shows will go to local charities.