I went to see the play tonight, and was surprised to see that the Holmes character looked and behaved like RDJ's Holmes. From the way he dressed--a rumpled suit, loosely knotted tie, and dark glasses--to his mannerisms, he was definitely patterned after the Downey version of Holmes rather than Rathbone or Brett. I hadn't expected Downey to be so influential so soon; granted, he didn't go all out with crawling on the floor or boxing anybody, but it was clear enough. No deerstalker or inverness in sight, either, which I am always grateful for. (Update: here's a professional review of the play, along with pictures.)
Edit: apparently I've been misspelling "crucifer" as "crucifier" and now can't change my titles without changing the blog urls. Urgh! I liked it, though I did still have flashes to the Charlton Heston movie, which was confusing. I wonder what new Holmes portrayals Benedict Cumberbatch will inspire after his show airs here in America.
Watson wasn't especially reminiscent of Jude Law, but neither was he a bumbling sidekick. Most of the comic relief was fulfilled by Lestrade, the British army officers, and even Irene St. Claire, who kept screaming every time the covering slipped off the head of a corpse. I felt that the actress was overdoing her dialogue and her screaming a bit, but then again, that may be a deliberate choice that's justified by the character. Additionally, stage actors have to speak loudly enough to be heard by the whole audience, unlike in a movie where actors can be more quiet and mumbly.
Though they had good chemistry, Holmes and Watson were played as friends, not a bromance. There were a few slapstick moments, such as Holmes playing his violin by holding the bow still while moving the violin across it. :) Later, Watson fought with Holmes over the tubing that Holmes was tying on his arm prior to injecting cocaine. Another funny bit was when Holmes returned from his laboratory with the crucifer paper and a flask of some red liquid; we assumed that it was a chemical he had used on the paper, until Holmes drank it down! Watson is realistically prickly, and he takes the opportunity to make veiled comments about Holmes's cocaine use a couple of times.
Holmes is rude and insensitive at first, but then spends much of the play defending Watson's intelligence and competence, and he does seem sincere in trying to get Watson to stay. I still will never understand the moment where a self-loathing Watson asks for a kiss of hatred from the villainess. Why didn't he notice that the gun was wrong? Was that meant to just reflect how shocked and horrified he was? But then, why the kiss? Why not continued shame and mortification? Why couldn't the shot be delivered while he's trying the wrestle the gun from her or something? I don't get it.
The play and the movie are very close to each other in plot. However in the play there was no suggestion that Birdy Johnson was attempting to rape Irene St. Claire when he wanted to go into the bedroom to talk, whereas the movie did imply this. Also, in the play, it is revealed that Neville St. Claire's wife (originally Alice Napier) contracted syphilis from him and committed suicide before the worst symptoms could overtake her. In the movie, the syphilis is not mentioned, and Alice's suicide was from despair about Neville's opium addiction, as well as their loss of money. Without seeing Paul Giovanni's script myself, I can't tell which version was the correct one. I would tend to side with the play version as being more faithful, and yet I don't understand why the movie would add suggestions of attempted rape, yet remove mention of syphilis.
I'm also not sure of Jonathan Small's despair over Tonga dying. He seemed rather upset about it, killing himself over it. At times, too, Alistair Ross seemed to be implied to be gay, such as how he said that Neville St. Claire used to be beautiful when he was young. So I don't know if these subtexts were in Paul Giovanni's script or not. Overall it was an enjoyable performance. I still wish I could see a Holmes play that contains more slashy overtones between Holmes and Watson. On an episode of Jeopardy last year, I saw a contestant saying that she had written such a play, but I never heard the title of it or could find where it would be performed.