Andrew Cameron, Angela Duguid, Arthur Conan Doyle, Edinburgh Fringe, Quids In Theatre, Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes and the Conundrum of Conan Doyle, Spiritualism, The Spaces on the Mile, Theatre Review
Quids In Theatre hail from Aberdeen and their show “Sherlock Holmes and the Conundrum of Conan Doyle” is presently installed at the Space on the Mile. We are surprised to find ourselves walking into not merely a drama about Arthur Conan Doyle but his bona fide memorial service. This was originally held in the Royal Albert Hall in 1930, with ten thousand or so mourners in attendance. We are each handed what looks like a replica of the authentic programme and the play proceeds to follow it. There is a moment of panic when we are all suddenly required to sing the verses of a hymn, but fortunately we are given a little backup from the sound system.
I am not sure about all of this. Is it appropriate? We are not just profanely mimicking religious worship but humorously re-enacting somebody’s actual memorial service. The novelty of the template nonetheless grows on me. It is imaginative and quite amusing.
A better title would be “Sherlock Holmes and the Hypocrisy of Conan Doyle.” Having created Holmes, the greatest scientific superman in world literature, Doyle fell head over heels into spiritualism. He more than confirmed the maxim that “there is no fool like an old fool.” At his memorial service, an empty chair was placed on the podium, just in case the author wished to pop back from spirit land and finally tidy it up for everyone that death was not the end. A medium, Mrs Estelle Roberts, duly perceived Doyle in the chair and she passed a pre-agreed message from him to his wife. Adrian Doyle, their son, proclaimed that, “The spirit message answers all the tests which my father and mother had agreed upon before his passing. I can only agree with mother that the message is of so intimate a character it cannot be made public even to our closest friends.” Doyle’s spirit had no doubt reminisced about some disgusting sexual peccadillo.
“Sherlock Holmes and the Conundrum of Conan Doyle” sticks faithfully to a contemporary account of the service from Time Magazine. Yet the story’s quirk is that the fictional character of Sherlock Holmes (Andrew Cameron) is manifested before Lady Doyle (Angela Duguid) instead of her husband. In his later years Doyle thought that the photographs of the Cottingley Fairies were real and he believed that Harry Houdini was a fake sceptic who genuinely possessed magical powers. Needless to say, this was hardly the acumen of Sherlock Holmes. It is disconcerting to hypothetically imagine the Übermensch’s disappointed bafflement in his creator. Holmes could be more grateful: some lingering sense of the sacred meant that he was never recruited in fiction to promote Doyle’s faith.
It is conceivable that Lady Doyle and Holmes are on stage here only because Doyle and Houdini had been paired up in the 2015 Fringe play “Impossible” (with Phill Jupitus playing Doyle). Although Duguid sparkles as Lady Doyle, I am minded to commiserate with Cameron for failing to deliver on Holmes. Any actor needs a reservoir of charisma to make Holmes float; Jeremy Brett had complained that, “Holmes is the hardest part I have ever played—harder than Hamlet or Macbeth.” On reflection, though, the root of the fault is clearly in the script. This Holmes seems to talk far too much – to make small talk, even – when I remember it as being usual in the books for him to remain strategically taciturn.
Yet a floppier Holmes turns out to be a pontential boon. It could be that Lady Doyle has conjured up Holmes in her mind as a kind of devil’s advocate, or as an incarnation of the scepticism that she is determined to defeat. Her imagination naturally knocks him down a few pegs. He is rendered sneering, scoffing, and ineffectual. If he had the wisdom and lizard-like inscrutability of the real Holmes, he would be too great a threat. A dead Holmes is just as valuable to her as the living spirit of Conan Doyle. This Sherlock Holmes story will end with the forlorn absence of any masterful solution.