The timing, language are elementary

By Liao Fangzhou Source:Global Times Published: 2016-5-29 18:23:01

British TNT Theatre stages localized revival of its The Murder of Sherlock Holmes

After a long interval of more than 15 years, British touring group TNT Theatre is reviving its original production The Murder of Sherlock Holmes with a Chinese rendition in Shanghai.

"We did it for seven years all over the world, and it is exciting to say, 'let's do it here,'" TNT's artistic director Paul Stebbings told the Global Times.

Combining detective thriller, violence and comedy, the play takes place in an East London brothel, where several prostitutes have been mysteriously murdered.

In the script itself, the brothel owner stages the play The Murder of Sherlock Holmes to sustain his business, in which the famous detective and his sidekick, Dr Watson, pursue a serial killer, and the truth of the brothel killings unfold.

"It's a play inside a play; it's an old format, but a very satisfying one, with a lot of fun. It allows you to be very serious in one play and very comic in another," Stebbings said.

New development

He said he believes it is necessary to customize a production for staging in another country's local language.

For this show, he threw in a new sequence of the murder of a Chinese doctor, which was based on the evolving play's story line at the end of its seven-year tour.

"We added something, took old speeches away, and in fact I wrote new materials just this morning. It's always alive. We are not just reproducing. It's not a copy; it's developed in its own way," Stebbings said.

He said that over the course of the tour, the play reached a level of detail and comedy that was very precise, and it is difficult to get to that level in less than four weeks of rehearsals.

"It's a play, but it's also a piece of performance. It is like learning dance or circus. Sometimes you work on the smallest things. It is also physically very hard, like a sport.

"So we work hard. The actors have to remember very small things to do and get the timing right," Stebbings said, adding that the actors are doing very well, though one of them joined rather late due to a casting issue.

From playing to directing

Stebbings played the title role in the old production himself, winning awards for his performance at the Edinburgh International Festival.

He said it obviously makes directing easier for him, as he does not have to constantly look down at the script and worry about the translation, like with productions of The Tempest and A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Instead, he knows what the Chinese actors are saying all the time, and has a strong idea of what he thinks it could be.

"It makes the actors' lives miserable, because I have too many ideas," Stebbings joked. He added that he doesn't want the actors to imitate him, but just shows them, "look, this works."

Scenes from the Chinese rendition of The Murder of Sherlock Holmes Photos: Courtesy of Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre

Imaginative set

The production enjoys a bigger set in Shanghai, but it does not rely on massive sets or costumes changes to create the Whitechapel area in the 1890s. Instead, an atmosphere is brought out by limited resources existing in the 19th century England.

For example, a bath in the opening scene in which the girls wash in dirty water later on becomes a boat. A carriage is made out of an umbrella and boxes.

"It is much more fun to transform something. People like imagination," Stebbings said.

An ongoing myth

Stebbings said he feels the play's revival comes at a time when the myth of Sherlock Holmes is becoming even more widespread, as Hollywood films and the Benedict Cumberbatch series fuel a new craze over the detective.

He believes the timeless, universal charm of Sherlock Holmes lies in that he is not so much a detective as a philosopher, and that he tries to make sense of the modern world in the modern city that is London.

"He tries to solve crimes, and in a city you never really solve them. It is all a gesture, a symbol. It was written a long time ago, but nobody has made a better detective. It's a perfect setup. It touches people," Stebbings said.

Date: Until June 19, 7:30 pm

Venue: Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre

Address: 288 Anfu Road 安福路288号

Ticket: 150 yuan ($22.86) to 280 yuan

Call 6473-0123 for details

Posted in: Metro Shanghai, Theater, Culture

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