Theatre review: The Game’s Afoot; or Holmes for the Holidays – Pavilion Theatre, Castle Hill (Performances until 30 April 2016)

A group surround a table in a séance.

As the curtain opens you would be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled into the wrong theatre. On stage we see Sherlock Holmes concluding a murder investigation and catching his killer – but how can that be when we are only three minutes in? Here, at the start of the Pavilion Theatre’s The Game’s Afoot; or Holmes for the Holidays, we have the classic ‘a play within a play’ technique. The protagonist, William Gillette (Jason Spindlow) is starring in his own play based on the Sherlock Holmes novels, and as he and the rest of the cast take their bows a shot rings out and he collapses. Fear not, he is perfectly fine, merely a flesh wound but as he recuperates in his mansion which he currently shares with his mother Martha (Elizabeth Gilbert) he is determined to embody the character he so artfully depicted and solve his own attempted murder.

Coming along for the ride are his fellow actors, husband and wife Felix and Madge Geisel (Peter Gizariotis and Elizabeth Chambers), newly engaged couple Simon Bright (Robert Snars) and Aggie Wheeler (Emily Richardson) and critic/gossip columnist Daria Chase (Brooke Davidson). It is Christmas Eve, 1936 and while the champagne flows, Gillette sets up an elaborate ruse to attempt to catch a killer. Unfortunately what eventuates is not part of his plan and a real life who-done-it ensues with the help of the eccentric Inspector Goring (Alexandra Ridden).

Robert Snars as the ukulele playing, doting new husband is absolutely hilarious, as is Brooke Davidson as the frisky and somewhat psychic journalist. The entire cast present physical comedy at its best, in particular Peter Gizariotis and Jason Spindlow are a match made in heaven as they play off each other in a performance reminiscent of classic Laurel and Hardy. Such was the level of slapstick, I am surprised there wasn’t an afterword stating ‘No actors were harmed during the making of this play’.

Praise needs to be given to the clever set design, an element of which forms an integral part of the story, and to the beautiful costumes which truly embody the glamour of 1930s Hollywood. In an attempt to encourage you to go out and see the play I’m not going to divulge its conclusion here – if you want to know who-done-it, you’ll just have to find out for yourself.

Directed by Paul Sztelma, in his third attempt at a Ken Ludwig play, The Game’s Afoot; or Holmes for the Holidays will keep you guessing (and laughing) until its surprising conclusion.

The Games Afoot; or Holmes for the Holidays runs until April 30 at The Pavilion Theatre, Castle Hill Showground. Bookings via www.paviliontheatre.org.au.