Edinburgh review: Max and Ivan are …Holmes and Watson
If any show is going to snap you out of the dozy afternoon feeling you may have got going on this festival, it’s Max and Ivan Are…Holmes and Watson. A narrative-driven sketch show loosely based on the well-loved Arthur Conan Doyle characters, the pace starts at a gallop and never lets up.
The plot begins with crime fighting duo Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson at the top of their game. Yet, somewhat inexplicably, Holmes’ keen mind turns to mush and just finding out who has soiled him is a hard mystery to crack. He is forced to snap out of his stupor when Watson is kidnapped by the mysterious ‘Octogon’. Holmes must track him down to Chicago’s murky underworld of the 1920s; a place full of gangsters, molls, secret drinking dens and prostitutes. However, it appears that Octogon is merely a henchman working for a dastardly villain that Holmes and Watson know only too well. Holmes must stop him and the bomb he plans to detonate before it blows up some haemophiliac orphans, an old people’s home and the American president.
The duo play a multitude of roles in this whirlwind show from walk-on Geordies and camp Germans to more developed characters like the Schwarzenegger-voiced bruiser Octagon; Dusty Cervix, the ageing queen of the ‘Noo Yoik;’ streets; and the (show-stealing) Michael McMichaelmas, Holmes’ bonkers Scottish mentor. Flexing strong acting muscles, the pair whip through accent after accent, with each role accompanied by different idiosyncrasies and facial expressions. At one point Ivan even says to the audience “there’s only two of us!” and it almost does need pointing out to fully appreciate what they’re pulling off.
By eschewing costume changes and keeping props down to a bare minimum, they are able to switch between scenes and story threads at lightening speed, with Max, at one point, literally flipping into another character. It’s hugely impressive although occasionally, it does make the story harder to follow, as Ivan’s whining moll acknowledges: “Could this get any more complicated?” There are flashbacks, tangential sequences (ever wondered how the Charleston dance caught on?) and a spectacular four-way perspective fight scene. Watching them is a bit like watching a gripping Wimbledon match: it’s exciting, compelling and so fast you’re struggling to keep up with the ball. Credit must be given to director Jess Ransom for choreographing the nonstop action – a lot goes on in a very small space.
With plenty of standout lines (none of which I’ll spoil here); the script is snappy, imaginative and enjoyably silly, from Watson’s amusement over the word ‘pineapple’ to Octogon’s penchant for turning into mundane inanimate objects. While the plot gets more and more tenuous, Max and Ivan never let go of the reins. Their finely-tuned comic timing and adept characterisation overrule any misgivings you may have as to how the story is developing.
“They were far too comfortable playing women”, I overhear a man say on the way out (which I think was a compliment). Accomplished acting, sharp writing and bags of energy: Max and Ivan have all the key ingredients you’d want in a sketch show here. Did I mention there was singing and dancing?
Max and Ivan Are..Holmes and Watson is at the Pleasance Courtyard from 6-29th August at 3:30pm