Telling the story of the iconic character of Watson, Tim Marriott has taken on the role for one of his currently touring shows. In a life after Sherlock Holmes and his cherished wife Mary, Watson: The Final Problem depicts 1894, whereby darkness is revealed while he faces the huge challenge and adventure that is presented before him.
Having had an expansive career in a wide variety of areas within the arts industry, Tim has a lot to tell when it comes to his professional background, so it has been intriguing to find out more.
Please may you tell us a little about your latest show, Watson: The Final Problem? How did the concept for this come about?
We were on holiday with friends in Meiringen, an Alpine village which sits under the Reichenbach Falls. I have always been fascinated by the Moriarty story, the dark shadow that follows Holmes and Watson across Europe to a deadly embrace at the fabled waterfall. It occurred to us that this story is worth telling from Watson's perspective. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle often wrote the books in the first person, as Watson. He is not the fool that he is sometimes presented to be. Furthermore, he is a veteran of war in Afghanistan, wounded twice, a survivor of Enteric Fever and by 1894 he has lost not just his great companion at the Falls but also his beloved wife Mary. He is a fascinating character, not the dry old stick of some interpretations. But I didn't think that I could do this alone, I am no Holmes expert, so I contacted someone who is. Bert Coules was the BBC's Head Writer on all the radio adaptations of the stories in the 1990s-2000s. He was immediately enthusiastic about the idea and has not only co-written the piece but also directed the play and created the soundscape.
What can audiences expect from the show, and why should they come to see it?
Audiences can expect a cracking tale of intrigue and danger, enhanced by Bert's soundtrack and told with as much energy as I can muster! They will also, perhaps, discover a different side to Dr Watson and reflect a little on contemporary issues as his story achieves surprisingly modern resonance.
What joys and challenges have you faced with this piece?
There has been the obvious challenge over the last two years, but this also brought an unexpected bonus. After our trip to Meiringen, I went on tour to Australia and was then due to go to the USA with another show of mine. I wondered how we were ever going to find the time to make Watson... This was February 2020... soon we found that we had ample time to write! So in lockdown Bert and I managed to create a draft script and record it as an audio piece to test it out. Then, as things opened up in the summer of 2020, we were able to stage a rehearsed reading or two. The second lockdown gave me time to revise it and for me to learn it on long dog walks across the Sussex Downs before previewing the complete show at Brighton, Ludlow and Edinburgh Fringe Festivals. Further restrictions last autumn gave us more time to take the piece back, reflect on it some more, develop it further before bringing it to Chelsea Theatre, and on to Coventry Garden Festival in May and Edinburgh in August via a few other tour dates.
How does it feel to be portraying such an iconic character to so many- is there extra pressure to perform a certain way, or have you put your own spin on it?
It is a big responsibility to bring such a well known and much loved character to life on stage. But I have tried to avoid revisiting other film and TV interpretations and be as truthful to Conan Doyle as possible, whilst also reflecting a little on where we are now. And as with any role an actor represents on stage, you have to bring yourself to the character, draw on your own feelings and experience to make the performance real and convincing, so, yes, there's a bit of me in there too.
Please may you discuss the differences between the various avenues of the arts industry that you’ve worked in, and do you prefer being on stage/in front of the camera, or behind the scenes producing?
I have been fortunate to have been involved in many areas of the arts industry. Having worked initially in theatre, touring both UK and internationally, I had a bit of a TV career in the 90s with The Brittas Empire, but then left the business to go into education as a Head of Drama in a secondary school and programming the college's three theatre spaces. I left teaching four years ago after having a role in a comedy feature film (Love Type D, currently available on Amazon Prime) and having been commissioned to write an adaptation of the diary of a former soldier, Neil Blower, called Shell Shock. A further commission followed to make a play about Josef Mengele. I have found the life of a theatre maker, writing and producing performances most rewarding. It's fun being on camera, but for me the more complete experience is in the making of a show. I learned a lot about this process as a teacher, producing young people in musicals and drama, and to see their performances after a long and sometimes challenging rehearsal period was incredibly rewarding.
What do you think has been your biggest achievement over the span of your career?
Obviously, seven years as a running character in a BBC sitcom is an achievement, but one other moment particularly stands out for me. Shell Shock was, and is, a project very close to my heart. We originally created this PTSD themed solo show as a student piece, but I ended up performing it myself. We won an award from Edinburgh to take the play to New York and Australia, where we toured promoting the Invictus Games. This also included a short tour to New Zealand, which took me to the Special Forces training camp near Auckland. I was shown into a large conference room-no stage, no lights- where some of the toughest people on the planet were marched in to watch this terrified English actor. Two shows, back to back, with about a 45 minute break. I had no time to think and no choice but to get on with it. But they were incredible, so appreciative and conversations opened up all over the place. It felt amazing to be a part of something that achieved such an emotional response and demonstrated so clearly the power of storytelling as a cathartic experience.
And lastly, who inspires you, and why?
As a teenager I was massively impressed by one particular actor, Dirk Bogarde. A hugely successful British film actor, he rejected Hollywood for European cinema, later living in the South of France, writing wonderfully engaging and beautifully written biographical books and novels. He struck me as a fabulously gifted person who determinedly followed his own path. Privately, I am inspired by my family, not just seeing how the younger generation have embraced the challenges of the past couple of years, but also how my 96 year old mother has managed solitude, isolation and a move into protected accomodation with cheerful stoicism. We have much to learn from the example of her generation.
What a fascinating interview. Thank you very much to Tim for taking part and sharing some brilliant answers that provide a great insight into your work and experiences. Best of luck with the show and beyond!
Get your tickets for London here:
And more information on Tim's work and other shows can be found here: