Photo: no attribution. Published in “Ottawa Life”
The chief virtue of Black Sheep Theatre’s frenetic and often irritating production of Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Hansom Killer is the presence of an engaging dynamo of a performer named Emily Windler.
She’s so enjoyable in her multi-character contribution that you can almost forgive her for being involved in the creation of this sophomoric, self-admiring attempt to send up the Sherlock Holmes genre.
We get to see Windler appearing variously as Holmes’s resourceful housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson, as a sneering villain, and as the bouncy but clueless Dr. Percival Merriweather (her most engaging characterization). She also pops up briefly in a few other identities, and in every instance invests her character with energy and imagination. When she is doing her thing, she’s usually a lot of fun.
The same cannot be said for a show which may quickly wear out its welcome with some audience members even with its mercifully short running time of 85 minutes.
It seemingly originated in Washington state, and is written by Chris Bange out of some kind of dramatic situation jointly conceived by Bange, Windler, Brian Kuwabara, and the show’s Ottawa-based director, Dave Dawson.
Dawson has given us some beautifully executed productions in the past. But concern for cohesion seems to have deserted him here.
Bange, Windler and Kuwabara portray more than 15 characters — admittedly showing an adeptness with fast costume changes, vocal modulations and the use of a cloth scrim, behind which they offer moments of silhouetted action. But even as we’re constantly being solicited to applaud their cleverness, we also keep being reminded of the ramshackle nature of a show which often — presumably not intentionally — emerges as bad impro.
To be sure, Emily Windler keeps striving to save the day — and she makes the most of the play’s most intriguing premise, which is that Mrs. Hudson comprises the real brains of 221B Baker Street. By contrast, Sherlock Holmes, played here with unimaginative vacuousness, by Chris Bange, is a self-preening and bumbling idiot who is certain to screw up this investigation into a mysterious hansom cab unless the loyal Mrs. Hudson moves in to salvage her employer’s reputation. Bange also materializes in other guises — including a butler and a matriarch — with unbridled cartoon enthusiasm, while a likeable Brian Kuwabara offers a jolly Dr. Watson who looks ludicrous in Plus Fours and an Amazonian maid named Winifred who also looks ludicrous and scores a stellar success in giving drag a bad name.
The play’s claim to originality is limited somewhat by reminders that the various devices it employs have been used to better effect in items like the film, Without A Clue, the brilliant stage version of Hitchcock’s 39 Steps, and the various exploits of The Muppets.
The bottom line is that The Case of the Hansom Cab Killer smacks of undisciplined, self-indulgent fringe theatre, the type of fare which at point cannot resist a pointless diversion into a bit of double-entendre juvenilia about pubic hair. And in fact, the fringe does comprise its recent history. Unfortunately, travelling that circuit across Western Canada doesn’t automatically qualify it for a place in the Gladstone Theatre’s much vaunted 2013-14 season. Not by a long shot.
Sherlock Holmes: The Case of The Hansom Cab Killer
Written by Chris Bange.
Created by Chris Bange, Emily Windler, Brian Kuwabara, Dave Dawson.
Directed by Dave Dawson.
Brian Kuwabara — Dr. Watson, Winnifred the Maid, Inspector Lestrade.
Chris Bange — Sherlock Holmes, assorted butlers, Lady M, Mrs. Gillbon, Mr. Gillbon.
Emily Windler — Mrs. Hudson, Dr. Percival Merriweather, Valet, Professor M.
A Black Sheep Theatre production running at the Gladstone Theatre through Oct. 26. Tickets at 613 233 4523)
- © 2013 Microso