Review: Aquila Theatre’s ‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ at GMU’s Center for the Arts

Audiences can’t get enough of Sherlock Holmes. Television has two productions currently, the movie industry adds another version every year or two, and stage versions abound. I know of 4 versions shown in the DC area in the last year alone. But Desiree Sanchez, the director and adaptor of this version by Aquila Theatre has asked a question which brings a new twist to the beloved sleuth’s stories. What if Sherlock Holmes were played by a female?

Jackie Schram (Sherlock Holmes) and Peter Groom (Watson). Photo by Richard Termine.
Jackie Schram (Sherlock Holmes) and Peter Groom (Watson). Photo by Richard Termine.

Jackie Schram portrays Holmes intriguingly and with originality. There is terrific energy in the production moving the play at a rapid pace and much of that is driven by Schram. Her Holmes is authoritative, witty, unpredictable, and occasionally condescending. There are wonderful moments between her lightning-quick deductions where she slows to listen to a client’s story and dramatically brings the recounting to life for the audience. Holmes is supported, of course by Watson, nimbly acted by Peter Groom. Just as with a female Holmes, Groom brings a new take on Watson. He responds to the unexpected theatrics onstage with the same surprise as the audience, making him our accomplice. The winks and nudges, asking the audience to keep up with the theatrical effects, brings the style around to a very entertaining kind of farce.

While this play takes on three of Holmes adventures, it does so with a cast of only five actors. To do so, the remaining parts of the production, including many of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s other most recognized characters from Holmes’ stories, are played by three actors. They and especially Groom as Watson, all work tirelessly to give Holmes opportunities to solve the puzzles of his present case. For instance; seeing the need for haste as Holmes hurries to catch up to potential blackmailers, Groom shifts from playing Watson, to play the part of a horse drawing a carriage. This fanciful theatricality is very different from most other Sherlock Holmes productions and the audience loved it.

Kirsten Foster portrays many of the young female characters that Holmes and Watson meet, including Holmes femme fatale, Irene Adler, the one woman who outwits Holmes. The distinctions between Foster’s character’s accents and physicality were clear and descriptive.

Michael Rivers plays a young husband, a bent old caretaker, and a few old women including Holmes’ landlady. Without the playbill, I would not have guessed that his parts were all played by the same actor.

Hemi Yeroham has a grand time playing a very odd employer looking for a governess, a young girl, and a vain Bohemian King, whose spinning, sweeping exits exhibited a dancer’s grace. The acting range of these three get a workout and they are all delightful to watch in any of their characters.

Much of the fun comes from the theatrical antics when the cast interacts with the inventive set. Doors in frames roll around the actors as they enter or exit rooms. Director Sanchez is wildly inventive, and the production choices made were carried out beautifully.

Projections designed by Ellie Engstrom appear on a frame above a fireplace and mantle, and provide a setting as the scenes flow rapidly from Holmes’ living room at 21 Baker Street to all other locations. The lighting by Alberto Segarra is also excellent and shifts us immediately between realistic places to moments of memories represented as characters recount stories from which Holmes can then deduce.

The cast of 'The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.' Photo by Richard Temine.
The cast of ‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.’ Photo by Richard Temine.

This version offers a wonderful revelation answering what might a female actress do with the part of Sherlock Holmes. Frankly, Schram nails it. However, even though her gender is noted by other characters, who are surprised that she is a woman, I think it does not fully explore the issues of an iconic male character played as a woman. To do that justice, it would need to bring up myriad issues of the gender inequality of Holmes’ London, and the differences in relationships with the other characters in the stories, all of which would stray too far from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved stories adapted inventively here.

If The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes stops in your hometown run and buy tickets! And to the residents of Queens Theatre, in Corona, NY, you have 4 chances to see this show next Friday and Saturday April 1st and 2nd. Don’t miss it! Here is the US National Tour schedule.

Running Time: Two hours, with a 15-minute intermission.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was performed for one-night-only on March 26, 2016, at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts – 4373 Mason Pond Drive, in Fairfax, VA.

For more information about The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes, visit Aquila Theatre’s website. For tickets to other shows in George Mason University’s Great Performances Season, call the box office at (888) 945-2468, or visit their calendar of events.

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