The Arthur Conan Doyle Appreciation Society
Steven Canny and John Nicholson
Traverse Theatre Company and Peepolykus
Jennifer McGeary (Gabriel Quigley) is on the case of Arthur Conan Doyle—why was he so obsessed by spiritualism? Her lecture is animated by two actors Javier (Javier Marzan) and John (John Nicolson) who don hats, cravats and 'taches to play the various characters, real and fictional, of Conan Doyle's world.
The formal lecture falls apart and the play is chaotic mix of gems about the author of Sherlock Holmes and squabbles between philosophy post-grad McGeary and her wayward acting duo. John is a little too enthusiastic about the whole project while Javier is a wonderfully laid-back, remaining unfazed through the various and sometimes quite dangerous technical problems the show encounters.
It proves to be a winning comic formula, something light-hearted and fun for the festive season for those bored of the usual panto fayre. Even if the subject matter isn't of particular interest to you, there is still much to enjoy about the production; if you aren't a Conan Doyle fan, who knows, perhaps you may be converted.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was many things: a writer, a physician, an Irishman by descent, Scotsman by birth and Englishman by residency, he was also a keen spiritualist, a believer in ghosts and the ability to communicate with them. The rational McGeary wants to understand why this man of science and inventor of the world's most logical detective came to have such seemingly outlandish views.
With the play-within-a-play set up, the piece in a light-hearted but not frivilous way asks many epistemological questions about truth and the nature of belief. It is only possible though through the careful changes between the actors acting onstage and offstage seemingly off script.
Javier's rambling end to the first act is perhaps the best-written seemingly made-up piece. Marzan is masterful at making awkward chat with the audience. All three performers play off each other well with Quigley often in effect a mother looking after two wayward sons.
Peepolykus's genuine desire to create a complete Holmes is referenced many times including some attempts at extracts from the supposedly in-production script. Several of the really famous scenes are performed, though not always going exactly to plan.
Despite the simple low-key lecture hall setting, the Traverse has some tricks up its sleeve on the tech side of things making the most of the larger Traverse stage.
John Nicolson's Houdini adds a little bit of magic to the show, real magic—well, if there is such a thing. Only one thing is certain: the show will entertain.
Reviewer: Seth Ewin