It is no mystery that Sherlock Holmes has been dazzling readers with uncanny logic and wit for decades. Starting Friday, the legendary detective dazzles new audiences in a new play performed by the Milwaukee Entertainment Group.
“Sherlock Holmes and a Most Irregular Tea Party” is an interactive murder mystery set in the world of Sherlock Holmes. Liz Shipe, a writer, director, costumer and actor, wrote the original story, which will run through March 24.
The event begins with a half-hour tea time between audiences members and Mrs. Hudson at her home. Then Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson arrive, and the drama ensues, bringing the audience in on the action. With the help of the audience, Holmes and Watson set out to solve the mystery of the evening.
The play takes place at the Brumder Mansion, located on 30th Street and Wisconsin Avenue, and costs $35, including admission, food and tea.
Shipe said the Brumder Mansion is the perfect setting for a Sherlock Holmes story.
The mansion was built in 1910, at a time when Sherlock Holmes novels were still being written. Shipe said because of the mansion’s age, there is a lot of period furniture inside that fits well into the play’s story. The mansion’s small space also allows for an intimate setting that allows the actors to acknowledge the audience.
“If the audience is going to be that close, you want to engage them,” Shipe said. “Everybody really feels like they are a part of the evening – it is a complete submergence. We get to play off the audience members, which you don’t get to do all that often in theatre, so that’s fun and different.”
While the actors engage the audience, Shipe and the other cast members find that some attendees are not as eager to participate in the festivities of the evening.
“Most of them are very light-hearted and really want to be there,” Shipe said. “Every once and a while, you find people who don’t want to be. You can see it on their face as you walk by, the look of, ‘Do not talk to me. Do not engage me. I will not be happy.’”
While working as a stage manager at the Brumder, Shipe suggested to the owners of the mansion that a Sherlock Holmes play would draw a large crowd. They immediately asked her to write the play.
“I hadn’t had a lot of writing credits to my name yet, but I was very excited at the prospect of trying to put something together,” Shipe said.
Because she did not have a lot of writing experience, Shipe looked for help from a few friends.
“While I like to write and have done a couple of shows before, that’s not what I went to school for,” Shipe said. “I was very interested in as much help as I could get, because the point was to put on a good show.”
Shipe said she was influenced by the original works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle while writing the script. She said she particularly likes “A Scandal in Bohemia” because of the characters and “A Study in Scarlet” because, as one of only four full-length Sherlock Holmes novels, it provided her with more material as opposed to the traditional short story length of most Holmsian works.
There are also a few nods to the current BBC series “Sherlock” in the script, because Shipe is a major fan of the show. Shipe said she was also influenced by her relationship with her roommate.
“We’re very much Sherlock and Watson, and the script is very much informed by our relationship,” Shipe said. “There are actual fights that we’ve had that are put in there but in Victorian period dialect.”
Shipe said she considers the play comedic and light-hearted. However, like any good mystery story, there are a couple moments when the audience gets on edge about what is happening.
“I think the characters are very true to form,” Shipe said. “In the books, Sherlock is a great sportsman, so we felt that was very important to put in. Watson is a kind of ladies’ man, so we added that back in. With the story itself, you can find the bits and pieces of the stories that I liked, but as far as being a faithful adaptation to one story in particular, not so much.”
Shipe sent the script to the Sherlock Holmes Society of Washington, D.C., which thought it was clever and followed the source material well. Although the society liked it, Shipe said she doubts Conan Doyle would like it himself.
“I think he would be quite angry,” Shipe said. “He’d probably look at it like a really entertaining fan-fiction. I think it has more merit than that, but I assume he would be less positive.”
The decision to attend this creative Sherlock Holmes production is, in the words of Holmes himself, quite elementary.