Sherlock Holmes once said: “Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent.” Given the perplexities and peculiarity demonstrated in the Adventures of the Improvised Sherlock Holmes, I feel the old boy might have met his match.
The show starts the moment you walk in the door. Victorian-accented players descend upon you, proffering slips of paper seeking theme suggestions for the evening’s performance. I appreciated that the paper slip noted real titles used by Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle so that audience suggestions had a distinctly Holmesian edge.
It can be notoriously hard to get Australian audiences to join in at these sorts of events, but before the performance had begun, the actors had the crowd light-heartedly booing at latecomers and engaging in delightful two-way banter. There's nothing finer than a tentative audience opening up and really getting into the spirit of things.
The true talent of an improv troupe is very much demonstrated when the unexpected happens. In the case of the show I saw, two legs of a chair being sat upon slipped into a split in the stage. No one was injured (mostly due to the cat-like reflexes of the actor in question) but none of the performers blinked an eye, flawlessly incorporating the mishap as a major part of the plot line. Meanwhile, the worst part of the show was that at one point they made me laugh so hard that I was literally crying, and I couldn’t see what was going on.
These performers are wizards. I’ve seen a lot of improv in my time, and few performers hold the total mastery and perfect comedic timing of this lot. The unseen communication between players, the coherence of the unscripted plot, the way players consistently made intelligent, relevant jokes and knew when to make fun of themselves, the confidence with which they portrayed every character, subtly adding depth to even the most short lived persona. Pure mastery of the crowd and of their craft.
Despite the unknowable story line, the performance was laden with Holmesian references that will keep fans of the writings delighted, and quick-witted enough to throw the great detective himself off the trail.
Adventures of the Improvised Sherlock Holmes plays at the National Wine Centre until 22nd February. Tickets can be purchased here.