Streaming 'Sherlock Holmes' whodunnit is an interactive, virtual success
Things aren't going too well in Britain's political higher political echelons: the Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary, and Lord Chamberlain have all been found hanged and unless decisive action is taken fast, the Prime Minister will be next to go - and on his birthday, no less. What to do? If you're Dr Watson, it's time to call in a Zoom room full of amateur sleuths, who are then tasked with deciding which of a handful of suspects may be the murderer. It's a race against time, but one that at least allows the use of a "spyglass," better known these days as a mobile phone.
That's the setup for this latest entertainment from Les Enfants Terribles, the adventuresome company founded in 2001 whose immersive, interactive Alice's Adventures Underground was Olivier nominated in 2016 for the Best Entertainment and Family award (a catch-all category if ever there was one). This latest venture, achieved in conjunction with the on-demand virtual reality platform LIVR, allows us to chat directly with one of several different Watsons - I was in the very live company of the charmingly wry Maryam Grace - while the possible killers are arrayed before us, one of whom we get to interview one-on-one near the end. (The interview, it should be said, is specifically scripted, and none of the actor/suspects is seen live.)
This is the kind of thing where the determination to HAVE FUN tends to set my teeth on edge but, wonder of wonders, I actually did have a good time - sufficiently so that I wonder what the 80-minute piece might be like to do again, this time with a different set of colleagues and scanning the visual evidence even more intently for clues. My cohorts in crime-solving one recent night were an especially amiable bunch led by an unassuming but forensically gifted American named Noah, who was logging in from LA and clearly has a future ahead of him with the FBI. Less made for this world was one family that had to give up altogether early on when the technology became too much.
The script by Oliver Lansley and Anthony Spargo skirts Holmesian camp - luckily, ticketbuyers are not required to wear deerstalker hats - so as to alight with surprising finesse on the elisions between period skulduggery and the present day. I surely can't have been the only one to think of the noose and other weaponry found at the recent storming of the American Capitol when mention is made here of the grim endings that get meted out to these British politicians, albeit men from a bygone era. And one of the suspects - the very person with whom I was paired in interview as it happens - is a politico called Walter Erwin who sounds very much like a Brexiteer before his time. Not at all pleased about the mere thought of anything French in English life, he bemoans any scenario that might find his beloved Englanders "eating snails and wearing berets - disgusting!"
Without giving too much away, I can report that Erwin didn't ever really figure in our jury-like discussion as to whom to convict, and I was surprised at how delighted I was to have sussed out the true murderer early on. (I don't recall ever being that percipient at The Mousetrap.) You're taken into a breakout room at Scotland Yard so as to examine files, and led from room to carefully appointed room in order to survey any manner of props (books, maps, letters), some of which are revealing just as others are revealed to be red herrings. Those who know Laura Wade's fiery play Posh will find echoes of that malign landscape in a denouement where only the name of a certain gentleman's club has been changed: its malign reason for being remains entirely clear.
In this intensely competitive context, it's reassuring when Richard Holt's only vaguely patronising Holmes appears at the end to upbraid or congratulate his new recruits, in accordance with how keen that group's detection in fact was. It's also nice amidst ever dumbed-down times to find a divertissement in which Oscar Wilde, Darwin, and Titian are rather important clues. Just as this country is getting hopeful about the return of live theatre again (albeit not until May), it seems that we can also be thankful for an emphasis on erudition to help see us through from now until then.
Photo credit: Richard Holt in Sherlock Holmes, The Case of the Hung Parliament
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