The character of Sherlock Holmes is one of the most enduring in all of literature, film and TV and pop culture. He is the protagonist in 56 short stories and four novels by Conan Doyle. The Universal Sherlock Holmes encyclopedia lists over 25,000 Holmes-related productions and products from classic motion pictures and contemporary television series, comic strips and comic books, video and board games, and a wide variety of theatrical adaptation and stagings, including Broadway musicals, a ballet and even an opera. There is a Sherlock Holmes Museum located, of course, on Baker Street in London, as well as “The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes,” a traveling museum exhibition currently touring the US.
Both the London-based Sherlock Holmes Society as well as The Baker Street Irregulars (in New York) were founded in 1934 and are still active. These have been followed by many more “Holmesian Circles”, first in the U.S. (where they are known as “scion societies”—offshoots—of the Baker Street Irregulars) and then in England and Denmark. There are at least 250 Sherlockian societies worldwide, including Australia, India and Japan (whose society has 80,000 members).
The copyright for Conan Doyle’s works expired in the United Kingdom at the end of 1980 and all works published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain, thus allowing playwright, Greg Kramer, and countless other to leverage Holmes’s popularity and legacy in additional stories and adaptations in other media.
David Arquette follows in the footsteps of scores of distinguished actors who have portrayed the character on stage and on film including Basil Rathbone, Ian McKellen, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Downey, Jr., Jeremy Brett, Frank Langella, Peter O’Toole, Nicol Williamson, George C. Scott, Christopher Plummer, John Gielgud, Orson Welles and John Barrymore.
Indeed, it has been estimated that Sherlock Holmes is the most prolific screen character in the history of cinema with new stories set in the present day and even the future continuing to be told on stage and on radio, television and film. And in “new media” and for the wired generation, Sherlock Holmes and his world are also used in video game universe as computer and video games, most notably in “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” video game series by Frogwares.
The game, it seems, is perennially afoot.
A Letter by Greg Kramer
Set at the end of the 19th Century in London, England, Sherlock Holmes is a synthesis of the sixty Sherlock Holmes tales penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: four novels and fifty-six short stories. These stories comprise ‘the canon’, beloved by aficionados the world over.
The common factor of all the stories without exception is the extraordinary relationship between Sherlock Holmes and his ‘biographer’ Dr. Watson. Without this duo, there would be no stories, no adventures, and no curious cases. The clients and crimes change from story to story; Holmes and Watson endure.
Ultimately, however, a play cannot be a collection of unrelated bits and pieces; it must take on its own momentum to be satisfying. For this reason, the plot of this version of Sherlock Holmes is original, although its structure adheres to the detective boilerplate, if not invented by Conan Doyle then certainly popularized by him and now seen in practically every TV detective series: the detective is approached with a crime, the crime is investigated, puzzled over and finally solved. On the way, observation, deduction and analysis of various clues keep us on our toes. Often in Holmes adventures, there is a ‘vigil’ where the loose ends of the case are explained to Dr. Watson as they wait for the criminal to turn up (usually at night and in the dark). Out of chaos comes order – an understandable desire for a society that was going through immense changes and which had just endured the terror that was ‘Jack the Ripper’.
In this particular plotline, we have Sherlock’s arch enemy – Moriarty – in charge of the ‘baddies’. The issue at hand is the legislation to ban opium (which didn’t happen fully until early in the 20th century) in the aftermath of the opium wars of the Far East. It is well-known that Sherlock was an intravenous user of both cocaine and morphine; the anti-drug argument thus becomes complex when our hero is also a user.
Also putting an appearance into the main plotline is a variation of the Irene Adler character (who appears in Scandal in Bohemia) – the one woman who ever made an impression on Sherlock and, of course, the ‘one that got away’. In this case, it’s Irene St.John, American wife to Lord Neville St.John an outspoken opponent of opium in the House of Lords. It is the kidnapping of Lord Neville that sparks our story.
Many iconic moments have been woven into this plot – from the very first meeting of Sherlock and Watson, through a murder in a locked room in a country house to a race through the streets of London in Hansom cabs. The trademark deductions, the chemical analysis, red herrings, the observation of mud and rust stains – they’re all here, too. This is an adventure, rendered theatrically with some actors playing many roles, turning on a sixpence as the scene demands.
Just as Watson is Sherlock’s right-hand man, Colonel Moran stands by Moriarty, carrying out the dirty work. The enigmatic Orchid runs her opium houses with a strict hand, while Chief Inspector Lestrade from the newly-formed Scotland Yard does his best to maintain law and order, aided (and hindered) by his Constables.
And of course, no tale of Sherlock Holmes would be complete without the landlady of that infamous address, 221B Baker Street, Mrs. Hudson.
The first dramatisation of Sherlock Holmes was done by William Gillette in 1898 in which Gillette himself played the famous sleuth. It was Gillete who invented the (now) iconic meerschaum pipe, since he could keep it in his mouth without masking his face onstage. And it was one particular sketch by Sidney Paget in The Strand magazine that brought the image of Sherlock in a deerstalker hat to the forefront of public consciousness – otherwise the only reference by Conan Doyle in the canon is to an ‘ear-flapped travelling cap’ (try saying that six times quickly) in the Adventure of Silver Blaze.
Sherlock Holmes has the honour of being the most dramatized character in history. There are societies dedicated to him the world over – including some that maintain he was a real person! Adding to this legend are plaques at the place of his supposed death (at the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland) and the first museum ever dedicated to a fictional character in London. His popularity as a character remains immense to this day.
So put on a deerstalker hat and pick up a magnifying glass – see if you can solve the mystery along with the famous sleuth of Baker Street!
Enjoy the show,
GREG KRAMER (Writer, 1962-2013) was a director/actor/writer who was born in the UK, emigrated to Canada in 1981, and made Montreal his home in 1999. He appeared in over 100 productions across the country. Notable performances include the title role in Richard III (Vancouver), Prospero in The Tempest (Montreal), Petruchio in Taming of the Shrew (Ottawa), Gollum in The Hobbit (Toronto), The Devil-dog in Peter Hinton’s otherwise all-female production of The Witch of Edmonton (Toronto) and a dying sailor in the Chalmers Award-winning, Ditch (1994) by Geoff Kavanagh. Most recently, he appeared in SideMart’s The Haunted Hillbilly, for which he was nominated for a Best Actor MECCA award. Directorial highlights include Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the Segal Centre, Kit Brennan’s Tiger’s Heart at the Centaur, a documentary play, Seeds at the Monument National, an updated version of Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest for TLB and Peter Weiss’ Marat … Sade which was nominated for Toronto’s Dora award (Outstanding Production) in 1991. Greg was also an accomplished magician and musician. As a playwright, his original produced plays include Lies of the Vampyre, Skateboard Tango, and Isadora: Fabulist! (Imago Theatre). Sherlock Holmes marked his most recent writing project. The playwright was also supposed to play Scotland Yard detective Lestrade in the original Montreal production, but tragically, Kramer passed away on the eve of rehearsals.
London, England – the end of the 19th century. Jack the Ripper has left his mark, electricity is entering the public sphere, Scotland Yard is still in its infancy, and the opium wars are done. Lord Neville St.John, an outspoken opponent of opium, gives a moving speech in the House of Lords to ban the drug. A vote on the matter is imminent.
Doctor John Watson, freshly out of the British Army in Afghanistan, is looking for a new place to live when he bumps into an old friend from medical school, who puts him in touch with one Sherlock Holmes, who just happens to be looking for someone to share his rooms at 221BBaker Street. Watson is intrigued by Holmes’ methods of deduction which appear to be uncannily accurate. The two men agree to share rooms. It is suggested that Watson could be Holmes’ biographer – Watson has no idea at this point just what he is getting into.
Meanwhile, in the docklands, Professor James Moriarty, notorious criminal kingpin, is plotting to thwart the upcoming opium vote in the House of Lords. His long-time assistant, Colonel Sebastian Moran, and the enigmatic Orchid, who runs the Black Orchid opium house, join him. Their scheme includes getting rid of Lord Neville St.John and an experimental form of assassination, which mimics drowning.
A fortnight later, two things happen simultaneously: a ‘drowned man’ is discovered by a couple of Constables under suspicious circumstances, and Lord Neville is abducted – witnessed by his American wife, Irene. So it is that Inspector Lestrade and Lady Irene both converge on Sherlock Holmes’ rooms – one after the other – in desperate need of help from the ‘world’s only consulting detective’.
It doesn’t take Sherlock long to link the two cases – and after some sleuthing involving some muddy footprints, some rust stains and a visit to the morgue, Holmes and Watson are off following the trail into the depths of Fleet Street’s broadsheet printers, while Lestrade and Lady Irene (in disguise as a man) pay a visit to Professor Moriarty to see if they can glean some clues as to the whereabouts of Lord Neville. Unbeknownst to our heroes, Moriarty has set
Colonel Moran the evil task of murdering Lord Neville at his country home in King’s Pyland – a two hour train ride to the west of London.
At the end of Act I, everyone converges on King’s Pyland to discover Lord Neville, shot to death in his locked study.
Sherlock interrogates the staff of King’s Pyland and discovers that Lord Neville was not as innocent as they may have thought – in fact it appears that he and Colonel Moran had been long friends – even though it appears that Moran is guilty of Neville’s murder. Still trying to figure out the connections in this puzzling case, on the way back to London, Lady Irene vanishes from the train in the darkness of a tunnel. All clues lead to dead ends and the case is put on hold.
Sherlock falls into one of his black moods. He spends days at Baker Street, indulging in drugs to salve his wounded ego. Even Watson can’t pull him out him in his attempts at diversion. Finally, after a seemingly casual comment from Watson, Sherlock hits upon the proper way of viewing the case and his energy and resolve return to him.
What follows is a mad chase through the opium dens and streets of London, including a vigil in an empty house and a trick with a waxwork dummy. The game culminates at a box at the theatre where Moriarty and Orchid are watching a production of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde . The game is up.