COMING: A Radio Return for Sherlock Holmes!

October 03, 2023 Written by Matthew Ivan Bennett

Playwright Matthew Ivan Bennett on creating 'RADIO HOUR EPISODE 17: SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE FINAL PROBLEM' for Plan-B Theatre and KUER's RadioWest

Each time a new medium appears, the death of old media is predicted. Radio was the prophesied killer of theatre. TV was supposed to bump off film. Streaming is now allegedly the fiber-optic strangler of live arts everywhere, and so-called AI is the fiery apocalypse for the craft of writing.

And yet, in 2023, we have live radio theatre at the Rose Wagner Performing Center in Salt Lake City, the annual co-production between Plan-B Theatre and KUER’s RadioWest."Radio Hour Episode 17: Sherlock Holmes & The Final Problem" will be different from the radio programs of 100 years ago, but might find itself cozy among them. We’ll have actors at microphone stands in front of an audience in plush red seats. We’ll have live musical accompaniment from Dave Evanoff. There will also be original digital projections from Daniel Charon, digital sound effects from Joe Killian, and Dr. Joanna Watson instead of John.

Plan-B doesn’t have an ensemble per se, but I’ve written several episodes of Radio Hour for Isabella Reeder, Jay Perry, and Doug Fabrizio. Returning as playwright this year—with the same talented trio from "Radio Hour Episode 15: Sleepy Hollow"—I knew right away an adaptation of Doyle would have Doug reprising his role as Holmes (from "Radio Hour Episode 7: Sherlock Holmes and The Blue Carbuncle" in 2012). Doug is our everyman and our deep intellect, making him the obvious choice for Holmes. I knew Jay would easily handle a bevy of accents and bring dark gravity to Moriarty. I knew Isa could anchor the evening in playing the fast friend, and in her sensitive narrative skill. I'll probably add episode numbers.

While "The Blue Carbuncle" was a Christmas mystery with repartee for stuffing (only some of which was supplied by Doyle), "The Final Problem" is a story of escape and self-doubt. It’s one of the rare episodes of Sherlock Holmes in which he fears being beaten, and even of losing his life. It lingers on the friendship that runs all through the Holmes canon and, dramatically speaking, sustains our love for these stories. So my work as a writer was really about featuring this Holmesian offbeat. About centering the affection between doctor and detective.  

To be sure, my approach would have been different if I had been adapting "The Final Problem" as a stage play. As a piece of radio, meant to slide into the Radio Hour/RadioWest format, I immediately began thinking about Moriarty as a force that pursues Holmes and Watson even when he’s not literally pursuing them. With Jay Perry playing everybody except Holmes and Watson, he will vocally loom over the story. It might be fun to try this onstage, but it can be done much more nimbly when sound is central.

Onstage, I would probably adapt "The Final Problem" as a tight, intermissionless piece on an open stage with more props and costumes than set. But on live radio, with station breaks, there’s a twenty-four carat opportunity for shaping stories into acts with suspense and cliffhangers. On radio, the 'set' is inherently endless, being the product of imagination. And in our production at the Rose, with Daniel's projections, the live audience will be able to float imaginatively into his art while listening to the actors.

Doyle’s stories are sometimes short on dialogue, yet building out the scenes for radio—a medium that’s nearly all dialogue—was easy against the element of relationship. Most adaptations develop the relationships in Doyle’s canon, whether it’s Holmes’ fascination with Irene Adler (“[To him] she is always The Woman”), or Watson’s marriage, or a deeper connection between Holmes and Watson. Indeed, the next installment in the Guy Ritchie franchise has been rumored to feature a gay relationship between Holmes and Watson (something that’s been happening in fan fiction for decades). In my version, there's romantic feelings but the feelings aren't mutual, which provides both comedy and heartbreak, and allows—I think—the episode to go deeper into its theme of self-doubt and questioning one’s ability and legacy.

"Radio Hour Episode 17: Sherlock Holmes & The Final Problem" should be both familiar and hauntingly new.    

Playwright Matthew Ivan Bennett has written 13 of 17 episodes of "Radio Hour," the annual co-production of Plan-B Theatre and RadioWest. Visit for details on and tickets to "Radio Hour Episode 17: Sherlock Holmes and The Final Problem" at 11am and 7pm on Friday, October 27. You will be part of the live studio audience as both performances are also broadcast live on KUER.