The Game’s Afoot

(or Holmes for the Holidays)


Gainford Drama Club’s production of Ken Ludwig’s “The Game’s Afoot” (or Holmes For The Holidays) is part mystery, part melodrama, part comedy, part farce as well as good, well-crafted entertainment. You certainly need a scorecard to keep track of who is dead, could be dead or someone wants dead. Is it Colonel Mustard in the drawing room with a knife?  Maybe!
The play testifies to the enduring popularity of the world’s first consulting detective, however, the story does not feature Sherlock Holmes himself, instead it portrays the actor William Gillette, whose productions did much to cement the Holmes character, which we know and love, in the minds of the public, introducing the pipe, cape and deerstalker.

The production works as a comedy thriller; although the plot creaks a little and the humour only really gets going, with the some slapstick comedy and dramatic twists, in the second half. Then the antics had you laughing out loud. This final act is well-executed, with perfect comic timing such that the production is lifted into a confection of comedy. The actors are as invigorated as they are versatile and the cast is so colourful, that the characters could have been taken right out of a Sherlock Holmes mystery.
The play has been transported to Teesdale for this production and the references made to the area were well received.  Both sound and lighting were effective during key moments and the quality was good.
Someone appears to be trying to kill William Gillette, who has come to identify with his most famous character. Naturally, there are other murders, with the action taking place at his country house, transported to Teesdale, during a storm.
William Gillette (Allan Jones), the central figure in the production, is portrayed as the confident star of the stage who has played Sherlock Holmes so many times he believes in a way that he is the detective.
He is paired with his long-standing friend Felix Geisel; Moriarty to his Holmes, played by Lawrence Chandler, whose protests of outrage and indignation create thunderous laughter in the audience. His physical comedy with Daria Chase, (played by Jo Longstaff) a fast talking New York reporter who’s not impressed with rural location, was not to be missed.  Daria is spiteful, vindictive and enjoys bullying the actors who desperately need her approval.  Her role is a pivotal catalyst for the events that unfold during this Christmas Eve story.,
Michelle Hope, as Felix Geisel’s wife Madge, is sharp and funny, particularly strong when working in tandem with Felix.
Maria Lowcock plays Aggie Wheeler, the quiet, somewhat perplexed starlet who is overwhelmed by the events in her life, while Aiden West who plays her new husband, Simon Bright, impressed with his performance in this his debut role for the Club.
Martha Gillette, William’s mother, is played with great energy by Veronica Lowery, who portrays her as a mother with a comical overabundance of pride in her son’s accomplishments. Inspector Goring (Iris Hillery) provides a foil for Martha’s knowing performance being constantly perplexed. Both get their fair share of laughs.
Spouting Shakespeare to each other as actors are wont to do, the guests are soon accusing each other of blackmail, jealousy, adultery, and, especially, of murder.  Luckily, an unusual , daffy, and occasionally savvy policewoman Inspector Goring (Iris Hillery) arrives in the snow storm to make sense of the pandemonium.
Although set on Christmas Eve 1936, complete with a Christmas tree and presents, the holiday doesn’t factor much in to the play at all except for a funny throwaway line by Michelle Hope, who plays Madge Geisel, Felix Geisel’s wife. After many secrets are out in the open, she casually asks, “So I guess we’re not exchanging presents tonight”.
Tom Brown directs the comic chaos with murderers and victims hiding behind every corner and secret sliding wall panel. There are enough references to Holmes and to various stage whodunnits to keep fans of the genre satisfied, even if the play itself is short of tension. Added to the strong teamwork on display, this makes for a satisfying evening’s entertainment.