AMERICAN actor and writer William Gillette made Sherlock Holmes very much part of himself when he received the approval of author Arthur Conan Doyle to adapt scenes from his stories about the detective into a play.
The work, Sherlock Holmes, with Gillette as the title character, premiered in Buffalo in 1899 and was an instant hit. Gillette played Holmes 1300 times in the US and Britain until 1932, and repeated the role at age 82 in a radio production in November, 1935, just five months before his death.
So it’s not surprising that another US playwright, Ken Ludwig, renowned for works including Lend Me a Tenor and Crazy for You, made Gillette the central character in a fictional comedy-thriller called The Game’s Afoot (or Holmes for the Holidays) that likewise has been a hit since it premiered in 2012, winning the Mystery Writers of America Award for the year’s best new play.
Newcastle’s Theatre on Brunker is staging The Game’s Afoot for a four-weekend season from August 11, with Drew Pittman directing a cast that has Andrew Trigg as an elderly William Gillette inviting other leads in a New York cast of Sherlock Holmes to spend Christmas with him at the castle in nearby Connecticut that is his home. The real-life Gillette actually lived in such a structure that was based on medieval European castles, but included secret passages and was the world’s first house to have an intercom.
The play begins with Gillette being shot in the shoulder by an unknown gunman while playing Holmes on Christmas Eve. As a result, he takes on the characteristics of Holmes during the holiday celebration with the intent of finding the would-be killer.
The partygoers include Gillette’s mother (played by Rosemary Dartnell), a long-married acting couple, Felix and Madge (David Owens and Amanda Woolford), newly-weds Simon (Aaron Armitage) and Aggie (Katie Wright), and theatre critic Daria Chase (Sandy Aldred), who has roasted all of them in her reviews. Events lead to the arrival of a female police inspector (Georgia Woolford), who is a would-be actor.
Rosemary Dartnell notes that the mother is very protective of Gillette and has a very sharp tongue, despite showing her age on occasions. Likewise, David Owens sees Felix and Madge as being a steadfast theatre pair who have a love-hate relationship but work together in helping the detective to solve an unexpected crime.
The Game’s Afoot is being performed in St Stephen’s Anglican Church Hall in Brunker Road, Adamstown, on Friday and Saturday from August 11 to September 2, plus a 2pm Sunday matinee on August 27. Evenings offer dinner and show at 7pm, $45, or show only, 8pm, $22, conc. $18. Bookings: 4956 1263.