The Game’s Afoot
Theatre on Brunker, at St Stephen’s Hall, Adamstown
Ends September 2
PLAYWRIGHT Ken Ludwig’s send-up of Sherlock Holmes’ detective stories and the writer-actor William Gillette who starred on stage as Holmes for 30 years gets lively treatment in this production.
Gillette is initially seen being shot in an arm by an unseen assailant while taking his bows on the final night of the New York season of his Holmes play. And at a subsequent Christmas Eve gathering at Gillette’s elegant mansion one of the guests is murdered, with the actor donning his Sherlock Holmes garb to lead an investigation and being far more efficient than the police detective who arrives to investigate the crime.
One shock follows another, with Gillette (Andrew Trigg) and his long-time fellow actor friend Felix Geisel (Drew Pittman, who also directs), making amusingly effective use of the secret doors and technical equipment in the building, with Chris Bird’s elaborate living room set, decorated with swords and other weapons, having watchers in awe. A fierce storm that repeatedly turns out the lights also adds to the intrigue.
The staging, though, maintains a dark humour in the most glittering moments, with surprises being revealed about the other partygoers. Gillette’s fussy and demanding mother, Martha (Rosemary Dartnell), is annoyed that they won’t just have Christmas together. Felix, while he’s assisting Gillette in trying to hide a body, reveals a frustration that he’s never had leading roles, and is the subject of sharp comments by actress wife Madge (Amanda Woolford). A pair of newly wed young performers (Aaron Churchill and Sandra Aldred) have their own startling secrets. Officious theatre columnist Daria Chase (Katie Wright), who has been critical in print of all the actors, is shown to also be a psychic when she conducts a séance aimed at discovering who shot Gillette. And the inept female police inspector (Georgia Woolford) spends much of the time bemoaning the fact that she never became an actress.
The story is set in the mid-1930s, and the elegant costumes from that era, especially that worn by the columnist, add at times to the amusement. Writer Ken Ludwig keeps the surprises coming, with a shock revelation in the closing moments having the audience laughing uproariously.