Preview: Vertigo Theatre shakes up iconic sleuth's world with a female Sherlock Holmes

Article content

In Kate Hamill’s comedy Ms Holmes and Ms Watson – #2B, receiving its Canadian premiere at Vertigo Theatre, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous sleuth Sherlock Holmes is a woman, and so is their famous sidekick, Watson.

“This is an alternate world in which there is no connection to the male Sherlock. It is a world where Sherlock is female, and her world is not Victorian England, but modern-day London. It’s a whole new world, and a whole new Sherlock and Watson,” says Julie Orton, who plays the contemporary female sleuth. Her unwitting partner in crime-solving, Joan Watson, is played by Tahirih Vejdani.

Advertisement 2

Article content

Article content

“The play is not so much a spoof of the Sherlock stories as it is a homage to them. Kate Hamill has used Doyle’s short story A Scandal in Bohemia as the main plot line, but there are references to other Sherlock cases and characters. Scandal introduced readers to Irene Adler, the most famous female character in the Sherlock stories, and she plays a major role in the mystery Holmes and Watson have to solve in this play. We also meet other famous Sherlock characters such as his landlady Mrs. Hudson, Inspector Lestrade from Scotland Yard, and Sherlock’s archnemesis Moriarty.”

All of the secondary characters are played by Camille Pavlenko and Graham Percy.

“The play is set in 2021, and the playwright even makes mention of coming out of the pandemic, and how it impacted theatre by necessitating small casts. Again these kinds of references are all part of the fun, and Kate Hamill has packed the play with as much slapstick fun as possible.”

This tomfoolery approach suits Orton well.

“I’m a pretty physical performer so I like that the play does away with subtlety. I like that Hamill has given me the iconic characteristics of Sherlock, like the brilliant mind and rapid-fire observations, but also peculiarities like she can’t pick up on social clues is quite prideful, selfish, thoughtless, and awkward. There is so much for me to play with, and that’s what I’ve always relished as an actor.”

Advertisement 3

Article content

Orton’s only other experience with a Sherlock Holmes mystery was Vertigo Theatre’s 2014 production of The Hound of the Baskervilles.

“Haysam Kadri was Sherlock with Karl Sine as Watson. Paul Welch played all the secondary male characters, and I played all the female characters. I remember thinking at the time, that one day I’d really like to be the person who solves the mystery, and here I am living that dream.”

Orton’s professional career began at Vertigo in 2007 when then-artistic director Mark Bellamy hired her right out of university to be the company’s acting intern.

“That season, I was in Vertigo’s production of the musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and the world premiere of Peter Collie’s Noirville. I’ve done at least a dozen shows with Vertigo since then. I’m really excited about playing Sherlock because I get to put my personal stamp on a beloved, iconic character. My Sherlock will be so different from what Haysam, Mike Tan, and Braden Griffiths have given Vertigo audiences, not just because I’m a woman, but because I have a different worldview than they do. My inspiration came not from any of them, or Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller, but from the Gene Wilder movie The Adventures of Sherlock’s Smarter Brother. That’s the big, comic vibe I’m going for.”

Hamill is currently the most produced contemporary playwright in America, primarily with college, university and community theatre companies for her adaptations of Jane Austin novels. Theatre Calgary produced Hamill’s Little Women and The Scarlet Letter. Ms Holmes was commissioned by the Kansas City Repertory Company. Vertigo’s version is directed by Kathryn Smith with set designs by Julia Kim.

It runs May 11 through June 9.

Article content