Victorian London has been coming to life as our artisans have been crafting the world of Christopher M. Walsh’s “Miss Holmes.” Planning and creative conversations began months ago between the design team and director Elizabeth Margolius. Elizabeth directed last season’s lush musical, “The Bridges of Madison County,” and we are thrilled she is with us again.
Research is one of her favorite aspects of the early process of preparing to direct. “I have always been fascinated with history, architecture and language,” she said. “I had a great deal of fun looking at old photos of London’s architecture, reading and watching Sherlock Holmes stories and really exploring the way in which mysteries are most effective.
“This play is so beautifully written and I wanted to make sure that the imagery matched the intrigue of the storytelling. I have deconstructed a lot of the moments and, just as in ‘The Bridges of Madison County,’ I am only using what is absolutely necessary to tell the story – everything else is left up to the eye of the beholder.”
Rehearsals began 19 days before opening night, July 4, and two days into the process, Artistic Director Greg Vinkler was looking to recast the roles played by Tom Mula. Tom sustained a muscle injury that restricted his movements to perform and/or dance. Fortunately, Neil Brookshire of the “The 39 Steps,” was available for “Miss Holmes” and actor Jim Harms will make his Peninsula Players debut in “The Drowsy Chaperone.” We all send Tom well wishes for a speedy recovery!
Sherlock Holmes is a classic literary character and I wondered if our playwright and director always have been mystery fans.
“Yes, I am an avid fan of mystery!” Elizabeth said. “I grew up reading Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and have been taken with mysteries and thrillers ever since – I love films and books (Harlan Coben is a favorite!) that take you through numerous twists and turns and land you in a place you never expected.”
Christopher is a fan of the BBC series, “Sherlock” and was first introduced to Sherlock Holmes via the children’s program “Sesame Street.” “I have vague memories of seeing episodes from some of the older British TV series on PBS,” he said. “I was in high school when I first started reading the original Doyle stories.”
When asked if he had a favorite character, Christopher replied, “I don’t know if I could pick one favorite character, but the best ones are the ones who reveal something new or change something fundamental about Sherlock himself. There’s a reason Moriarty and Irene Adler are Sherlock’s most famous foils, even though they only appear in one story each. I always enjoy Mycroft’s appearances for the same reason.”
Christopher is an actor as well as a writer. His television credits include “Chicago Fire” (NBC) and “Betrayal” (ABC). Some of his favorite roles were Porthos in “The Three Musketeers,” Bigwig in “Watership Down” and Mr. Vandemar in ”Neverwhere.”
Writing is a more recently developed craft. Prior to “Miss Holmes,” he adapted “The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas and “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens for the stage.
“Writing was something I always hoped I’d get around to doing someday,” Christopher said, “but never really had the patience to see it through. I have written the first chapters of a couple dozen novels that will never be finished. It wasn’t until I joined a theatre company that focused on new works and started working as an actor with playwrights as they developed their scripts that I found an avenue for writing that I really wanted to explore.”
Elizabeth was drawn to working on “Miss Holmes” because new works and British mysteries intrigue her. “The adventures of Sherlock Holmes are no exception,” she said. “Not only is ‘Miss Holmes’ a well-crafted classic Holmes and Watson mystery, it takes a fresh approach in terms of gender and the roles women played during a time when most were not taken seriously. So many layers to explore!”
Elizabeth’s cast includes Players veterans Cassandra Bissell as Sherlock, Neil Brookshire, Erica Elam, Sean Fortunato as Mycroft Holmes, Karl Hamilton, Maggie Kettering, Dan Klarer, Tim Monsion as Inspector Lestrade and Barbara Robertson as Mrs. Hudson.
“I have been absolutely in awe of what a cohesive ensemble they have become within such a short time period,” Elizabeth said. “We have truly worked together to create much of the movement and imagery of this piece, and they are always on board for experimentation and exploration. In addition, with a few exceptions, the cast plays multiple roles and their ability to quickly move from one distinct character to another is such a joy to watch.”
While reading Elizabeth’s bio in our program, one may wonder, “what is a movement director?” As she has been fascinated with movement and its role on the stage for many years, I asked her to explain what role movement plays in this production.
“I am referring to something a bit different than dance/choreography, although much of the piece is carefully choreographed,” she said. “I use different techniques, such as the tenets of Qigong (a Chinese system of physical exercises which incorporates body posture, movement, and breathing), to create an environment that is in continuous motion as well as to further define and heighten character, relationship and action.
“I also use movement to create subtext and to assist in drawing the audience’s eye toward or away from a certain moment. My goal in this piece was to create a movement score similar to the score of a musical to further the mystery and suspense of this well-written Sherlock Holmes story.”
Join us by the bay for a thrilling stroll down Victorian London’s cobblestoned streets. The Box Office is closed on Mondays during the performance season. You can call the Box Office at (920) 868-3287 Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 8 p.m. We hope you will join us by the bay, where the sun sets, the curtain rises and the stars shine!