Book Reviews - The Dramatic Moment of Fate: The Life of Sherlock Holmes in the Theatre
Posted by Steve Emecz on
Sherlock Holmes Society of London
As Ms Kitty says, “Few literary characters have had such a long and illustrious stage presence.” It’s more than likely that, on any given day in normal times, somewhere in the world a play featuring Sherlock Holmes is being rehearsed or performed. The USA is ahead of the rest: after all, the American William Gillette was the first actor to play Holmes with Conan Doyle’s blessing, and the first to become identified with the character. A thorough survey of Holmesian productions in American theatres would need several volumes, even if it were possible, and this nice little book looks at the UK and Canada as well, with nods to other countries. The Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake gets deserved attention for its productions (Alexandra Kitty is a Canadian journalist, who was writing about fake news and the decline of journalism long before Donald Trump turned both to his political advantage) but the main focus is 425 miles south-east, on Broadway. Obviously this isn’t a thorough survey — and an index would be very welcome — but it’s informative, entertaining, and written with love.
Bootmakers of Toronto
An Ontario journalist and writer, Kitty mines the rich, varied and sometimes bizarre world of Sherlock Holmes on the stage. Her examination spans the late 19th century to contemporary adaptations and includes drama, comedy, musical and parody. North American productions predominate, especially plays in Canada. There’s also a strong emphasis on the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. A whole chapter is devoted to Broadway productions and the London West End isn’t overlooked either, starting with William Gillette. Plays in smaller North American cities and other countries are also sprinkled throughout the book. Two of the most substantial chapters are devoted to productions of Hound and non-canonical adaptations. With modern plays, the author relies on critic reviews to round out basic facts about the show and its actors. Besides delving into plot, Kitty also looks at the way Conan Doyle characters are portrayed. While Holmes and Watson are the focus, other characters in the Canon are featured too. The theatrical appeal and timeless quality of Sherlock Holmes shines through in this work, which is also a useful quick guide to 120-plus years of stage adaptions – good and bad. Readers may also discover a fact or two about theatre and its history. At the very least, the book will bring back memories of stage performances seen over the years.
The book is a fascinating look at Sherlock Holmes on stage, ranging from William Gillette’s play through to modern plays by the likes of David MacGregor and Bert Coules. The book is broken into chapters including such topics as Sherlock Holmes on Broadway and theatrical adaptations of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles”. Of particular interest to me was the look at the various characters and who has played them on stage. The book is well researched with extensive source notes at the end of the book. Alexandra Kitty has written an excellent, one might almost say definitive, book on a subject that is rarely covered in any depth. Highly recommended to anyone interested in the history of Sherlock Holmes and also theatrical history.
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Sherlock Holmes has been a beloved character from his first story, and his mystique endures to the modern age in print, on screen – but he has had a long life in the theatre as well. Where did it begin? What are the themes, stories, and characterizations that make his stage presence unique and just as enduring?
Follow his trail on the stage as author Alexandra Kitty curates his fascinating theatrical world throughout the decades: from unlikely Off-Broadway musicals to lauded slapstick comedies, to more traditional and gripping portrayals of his iconic stories and new incarnations. How does the world’s greatest detective fare in the theatre? The results are always shocking, but never disappointing.