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In conversation with Video Designer Matt Powell on Sherlock Holmes and the Poison Wood

Video Designer Matt Powell discusses all things Sherlock and why they couldn’t pass up the opportunity to help put the world’s most iconic detective on stage.

What excites you about putting Sherlock on stage at the Watermill?
I was a huge fan of the 2010 TV series and when I was given the opportunity to do a Musical version of Sherlock that is contemporary, my mind exploded. It’s such a fun opportunity to over-visualise the digital world and go inside Sherlock’s mind palace in such beautiful and exciting ways.

Are you a fan of the detective/mystery genre?
The Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock in particular has a big piece of my fan-boy heart. I also enjoy a lot of Sci-Fi in general, so I do love the mystery elements that are in all of those shows.

Do you have a favourite fictional detective?
I don’t know if you could call the Doctor in Dr. Who a detective, but they do solve cases of a sort to save the day. I also love Benoit Blanc, the detective that Daniel Craig plays in Knives Out, who is a very funny and wonderful character.

What can the audience expect from your video design?
There’s such a broad use of video design in the show. We use it for establishing locations, for the vast, swirling world of social media, and to see inside character’s heads. For example, Sherlock’s mind palace is this big, nebulous brain that weaves together his thoughts through photographs and text. We also use it extensively for creative captions. So, as well as consistent captions throughout the show, we’ve integrated that text into the body of the video design. We’re making the show as accessible as possible, at every single performance, which I think is amazing.

Tell us about the challenge in portraying Sherlock’s intellect and powers of deduction on stage, and how this is done using your video design…
Sherlock’s such a fascinating character, his mind moves at a pace unlike anyone else’s. Songs in his mind palace have been a fun challenge – showing that rapidness of tying the threads of the case together, but doing so in a way that we can take it in. We’ve been playing about with what it’s like to zoom into a moment. Often I find in other versions of sherlock you’re seeing it fully zoomed in – we’ve used that as our jumping off point. We see the things he’s seeing and thinking, all that fact and data. It creates a composition that the audience can see and comprehend, and hopefully be solving the case alongside him.

What can The Watermill audience expect?
You can expect a fast-paced brilliant case with some incredibly catchy music, I’ve not been able to get the songs out of my head since beginning of working on it, which is a very good sign. It’s packed with lots of visual intrigue, amazing choreography, and is fast paced but in a very consumable way. It’s great fun to go on those journeys with Sherlock.

Left: Matt Powell’s video design for Accidental Death of an Anarchist at Theatre Royal Haymarket 2022-23. Photography: Helen Murray.
Right: Matt installing the video design for Sherlock Holmes and the Poison Wood at Watermill Theatre.

Sherlock Holmes and the Poison Wood performs 2 Feb – 16 Mar.
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