It all began when, during the closing bows of a lauded run of a Sherlock Holmes play, famed actor William Gillette was shot by a mysterious gunman. With the alternate title Holmes for the Holidays, Ken Ludwig’s script blends Shakespeare, Sherlock, and a touch of reality for a murderous Christmas romp in the Connecticut countryside.
William Gillette (Gary Clark) had gotten so good at playing Sherlock Holmes that he reckoned he could solve the mystery of the lone gunman himself but the situation became more complicated after one of his Christmas guests was murdered in his own home. The only clues were a threatening note left at the theatre and the murder of the stage doorman. But could all the mayhem even be related to the sudden death of Aggie’s (Rachele Edson) husband last year? All the suspects are gathered in William’s elaborate castle for an evening of threats, revelations, and top-notch sleuthing.
Ludwig’s script is based on the real life actor William Gillette who made his career by performing as Sherlock Holmes over a thousand times. The writing is hammy and fun, playing into exaggerated characterisations of stage actors who tease each other as often as they quote full scenes of Shakespeare. The direction from Tom Richards amplified the tongue-in-cheek nature of the multi-referential script with big gestures and melodramatic emotions. The underlying mystery of the Game’s Afoot wasn’t overly complex and there were plenty of clues deposited throughout which allowed the audience the thrill of solving the case along with William as his friends. Despite the apparent threat on his life, William and his enthusiasm for gadgets and clues were open and accessible for all levels of crime fiction aficionados.
Just like the real William Gillette, this stage one lives in a high-tech, customised castle built in the Connecticut country and the set design by James Bruce, Richards, and Neil Moulang incorporated extensive entries and exits to various sprawling rooms, recording and intercom technology, and even a revolving wall for handy hiding. Bruce’s lighting design and Dennis Batchelor’s sound design gave additional built ambiance with era-appropriate dance music and the customary crash and flash of a big thunderstorm.
Performances across the board were strong and the ensemble demonstrated a comfortable amiability that was believable as a cast playing a long-running cast. Clark’s William was confident but with a cheeky meddlesomeness that was charming. Michael Barlow and Jayne O’Connell were particularly funny as the competitive couple Felix and Madge, whereas the sticky sweetness of Edson and her new husband Simon (Luke Austin) provided a marked comparison. The two single women characters were easy audience favourites from the talkative mothering presence of Martha (Narelle Jaeger) to the full-on cougar characterisation of infamous theatre critic Daria Chase (Margareta Moir). Both Jaeger and Moir showed complete control of their craft as they demanded attention whenever they walked on stage.
The Game’s Afoot was a joyful, multi-layered mystery combining literature and theatre with funny and heartfelt characters for an all-around good time.
The Game’s Afoot or Holmes for the Holidays is running at the Arts Theatre Cronulla from May 7th – June 12th
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