TEEN AMBASSADOR: ZANE COX | MARCH 20, 2016
Throughout the past, present, and into the future of our planet, some books and stories wil lcontinue to be read across the globe for ages to come. This is certainly the case with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series. First published in October of 1892, the fictional literary series focuses on the titular character of private detective Sherlock Holmes and his assistant John Watson, who together solve mysteries that often lead them on a trail of adventure and whimsy. The tales of Dr. Holmes have become so well-known that they have lead to countless numbers of adaptations, including several movies, a television show, and of course a stage performance. In fact, so many adaptations of the stories exist that Dr. Holmes holds the official Guinness World Record for “Most Portrayed Movie Character”.
The stage adaption that I had the pleasure of viewing (presented by Aquila Theatre) is quite an interesting take on the original tales. Conan Doyle’s original pieces split Dr. Holmes’ adventures into 56 pint-sized mysteries, each with a different set of characters to introduce. Aquila Theatre’s adaptation showcases three out of these 56, with the full performance being comprised of The Adventure of the Copper Beeches, The Adventure of the Yellow Face, and A Scandal in Bohemia. Something interesting to note is that despite the stories incorporating nearly 20 different characters, there are only 5 actors to portray them. This is quite a difficult feat to pull off, as it can be very difficult to switch between so many personalities in such a short time span. However, the performers of Aquila Theatre pull it off flawlessly, making sure that every character is given a unique persona. To give a plot summary of all three mysteries would make this review overly long and quite tedious to read, so I will provide a rundown of just one act – The Adventure of the Copper Beeches.
In this tale, Holmes (played by Jackie Schram) and Watson (played by Peter Groom) are visited by a young lady by the name of Violet Hunter (played by Kirsten Foster) who has been offered a job as a governess. Despite her potential employer Mr. Rucastle (played by Hemi Yeroham) offering a salary of over 100 British pounds, he also asks Ms. Hunter to perform strange tasks, such as cutting her long hair short. On one notable occasion, Mr. Rucastle sat Ms. Hunter in his estate with her back to a large window and told bizarre jokes. Suspecting that she was not supposed to see out the window, Ms. Hunter hid a mirror in her dress, and saw a man standing outside looking into the window. On yet another occasion, Ms. Hunter stayed overnight at the Rucastles’ estate, and discovered a mysterious sealed-off wing of the house containing garments exactly like her own. Suspicious of these strange happenings and nervous about taking the job, Ms. Hunter asks Holmes and Watson to find out the truth surrounding the odd activities. After some investigation, Holmes deduces that someone is being imprisoned deeper in the sealed-off wing, and suspects that Ms. Hunter’s true purpose to Mr. Rucastle is to convince the man outside the window that Mr. Rucastle’s daughter (whom Ms. Hunter resembles) is no longer interested in seeing him anymore. In the end, the trio break into the sealed-off wing only to find it empty, with no prisoners in sight. Mr. Rucastle discovers them trespassing and sends his attack dog after them, only to have the attack dog turn and attack Mr. Rucastle instead. After Watson unceremoniously shoots the dog with his pistol, the Rucastles’ servant Mr. Toller (played by Michael Rivers) confirms their suspicions – after Mr. Rucastle’s wife passed away, his daughter Alice would inherit her mother’s money once she became of age. After Mr. Rucastle tried to convince Alice to turn the money over to him, Alice became sick with brain fever, resulting in Mr. Rucastle locking her in the mystery wing and recruiting the oblivious Ms. Hunter to convince Alice’s fiancé that she was no longer interested in marrying him. Eventually, Alice broke out of the wing and married her fiancé, leading to a joyful end for Alice.
This act was the first to be performed out of the three. It was quite an intriguing one, and also a perfect choice to set the pace for the rest of the show and to showcase the quirk of the Sherlock world. The actors of Aquila theatre performed their roles beautifully, and the antique-yet-timeless 19th century clothing (by Clare Amos) set the mood perfectly.
Aquila Theatre’s stage adaption is faithful to the books and sticks to the original plots in almost every aspect. However, there is one major change that causes it to differ greatly from Conan Doyle’s tales – in this adaption, Sherlock Holmes is female. Though this initially seems like a drastic and shocking choice, there is actually a very good reason for this – after all, why couldn’t Sherlock Holmes be a woman? The decision to make this gender-swap sends an important message to the audience – Aquila Theatre’s ultimate goal seems to be to break down gender barriers and roles, and no matter if you’re male or female, you can be what you want to be in life. Stereotypical “manly” jobs (such as a construction worker or American football player) are generally male-dominated, but there is no reason why women can’t or shouldn’t be allowed to compete in American professional sports. Likewise, there is no reason why men shouldn’t be allowed to apply for a stereotypical feminine job. In the end, Aquila Theatre seems to want to create harmony among all factions of the human race, and to create peace and happiness across the globe. This is a touching message that is conveyed subtly but beautifully.
All in all, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a thought-provoking experience, and combines light-hearted humor with adventurous undertones and insight into the culture of the 1890s. I would very much like to attend another one of Aquila Theatre’s performances to see what else they have in store.