Theatre Calgary presents
By William Gillette & Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - Adapted By Stephen Massicotte & Ian Prinsloo
Max Bell Theatre at Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts from October 19 - November 7, 2004

Theatre Calgary
By William Gillette &
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Adapted By Stephen Massicotte
& Ian Prinsloo


Sherlock Holmes - Eric Nyland

Dr. Watson - Curt McKinstry
Professor Moriarty - Blair Willams
Alice Faulkner - Jamie Konchak
Jim Larrabee - Trevor Leigh
Madge Larrabee - Natascha Girgis
Sidney Prince - David Trimble
Forman, Craigin, Inspector Lestrade -
Paul Cowling
Bassick - Ryan Luhning
Leary, Policeman - Scott McAdam
Mctague, Policeman - Nate Prochnau
Térèse - Katherine Anne Sanders
Davidson - Joel Smith


The Larrabee’s sitting room.
Moriarty’s headquarters.
Sherlock Holmes’ apartments.

Twenty minute intermission.

  A gas chamber in Swandam Lane.
Blackfriar’s Bridge.

Director - Ian Prinsloo
Set & Projection Design - Scott Reid
Costume Design - Jenifer Darbellay
Lighting Design - Paul Mathiesen
Original Music & Soundscape -
Peter Moller
Fight Direction - Jean-Pierre Fournier
Fight Captain - Scott McAdam
Design Intern - Naomi Herback
Stage Manager - Susan Mcnair Reid
Assistant Stage Manager - Kelly Reay
Apprentice Stage Manager - Ailsa Birnie
Theatre Calgary Poster Art. Copyright Theatre Calgary 2004
Eric Nyland - Sherlock Holmes
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Theatre Calgary's forthcoming production of the 1899 William Gillette play Sherlock Holmes has Calgary Sherlockians more than a little curious about what they can expect to see. Why Sherlock Holmes? Will there be changes? How will it be staged? In an effort to quench a bit of that curiosity, local Sherlockians Charles Prepolec and Jeff Campbell met with Theatre Calgary's Artistic Director Ian Prinsloo on October 1st to see if we couldn't get a bit of an insight into his approach to the classic play. Mr. Prinsloo kindly agreed to the following interview.
Ian Prinsloo. Photo by J.R. Campbell
Ian Prinsloo
CP: I see that you directed Waterloo at the Shaw Festival in 1998.
Prinsloo: Yes, I realized when I was beginning the process on the Gillette play, I thought this is my second Conan Doyle play.
CP: Indeed, it is.
Prinsloo: And I remember meeting with The Friends of the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection, they came to one of the performances and they published a play version.
CP: That's right. With Tony Van Bridge wasn’t it?
Prinsloo: Tony Van Bridge, yes. Did it that year and it was such a success they brought it back the next year.
CP: I'd read very good reviews about the production.
Prinsloo: It was a wonderful show to do and Tony Van Bridge was the only reason to do the show. Because - I take it you know the story of Waterloo?
Prinsloo: Same period and when I was watching Dracula I was going right, there's something here. There's something quite unique here within the drama of this period. And that's when I first read the Gillette script and then it percolated for a little while. It was just sort of sitting there. I thought, okay, how do we find a way to recreate this drama into our own period. And that's where I asked Stephen Masicotte, who is a local playwright, a very talented playwright, to work with me on the adaptation because the other thing about the play is that it's highly melodramatic. And when I did Waterloo it was the same sort of thing, I read it and well, this is, you know, deadly melodramatic. Because although melodrama still works, it's still used quite frequently within common culture, all action films are based upon melodramatic models and the dialogue is still there, but there's certain ways of phrasing that become more 19th century melodramatic as opposed to a modern emotive quality. When I was looking at, well, how do we translate this forward, the thing that I struck-on as my aesthetic was the graphic novel, because it takes those same sorts of characters and ideas and I took out The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as one of the graphic novels and watched the movie. The movie’s not very good but its art direction is stunning.
CP: Yes, it it is visually impressive.
Prinsloo:…and the graphic novel is actually better from where it starts. And it's a wonderful idea, you know, all of these characters of fiction, and Moriarty as the arch-villain within it. I was actually surprised that Holmes never plays into it at all. They have a flashback to the two of them fighting and they line it all up but he doesn't actually come into it, but that sort of feeling. Because what they very much within there, that I thought was great, was they kept all of the models, the ideals, but touched it into the 20th and 21st century, we still haven't left the 20h in my mind, by making the characters a bit more aware of where all of this would go. Like the evil that was represented by Moriarty, by the warlords within it, it all harkens towards that which will come in the first world war.
CP: Exactly. You get into the archetypes leading towards the Hitler figure and so on.
Prinsloo: Exactly and I thought looking back at the stories Doyle has this fascination, fear of, secret societies, with Moriarty, because to me they're peppered all the way through the stories. The Masons, the Church of the Latter Day Saints, the Mormons, the Klu Klux Klan and then Moriarty becoming the embodiment of organized crime. And it was always this sense there's these other pernicious elements binding together that must be stopped. Which again becomes very much 20th century, fascism, organized crime, all of these sorts of things which start to become part of what gets battled. And again Holmes and Watson are, to me, the original superheroes because it is this sort of dark anti-hero, his side-kick who is so ultimately good and of the world, and then fighting things that are beyond the ken of modern society. Which is why he has to out-step the police, he can never work within the bounds of the police because those are too limiting. He has a morality that lives outside of common morality and it's sometimes hard to discern. I thought it was fascinating, reading the books, that he actually lets people get away with murder, literally.
CP: Yeah, very much so.
Prinsloo: Because he believes that they were right.
CP: And that system itself has some flaws.
Prinsloo: Yeah.
CP: You've been doing your homework. That's good.
Prinsloo: (laughs)
CP: Always a good sign.
Prinsloo: Yes. And that's the precursor to all of the rest. I mean, in Batman, when I look at it, Batman and the legend of Batman is almost a direct take from Holmes because he's someone without superhero super powers. He learns everything himself, teaches it to himself. He learns different styles of fighting and all that. And he's obsessively driven to stop crime. And again, since it was created in the 20th century, they built in the psychological reality of watching his parents being murdered, so that's why he did it. I mean, there's none of that within Holmes, they never try to answer why he's this way, he just simply is this way. He spends all his life just doing this and doing nothing but this. So to me, it became the archetype for which those comic book heroes have been built on throughout this century.
CP: It's interesting that you mention that because the 1966 film
A Study in Terror, a Sherlock Holmesversus Jack the Ripper film,  was strongly marketed to exploit the Batman television craze of the time.
Prinsloo: Oh?
CP: The movie posters had word balloons with 'Biff!', 'Pow!', 'Bam!' And it said: Before
James Bond and Batman there was the original caped crusader Sherlock Holmes. That was the whole marketing approach to the film with John Neville as Holmes.
Prinsloo: And is it a good film?
CP: It's actually quite good. Some odd little characteristics to it but, yeah, it was a good film.
Prinsloo: Yeah and that's exactly where we've sort of taken to. And I think the interesting thing about the development of graphic novels in, say, the last twenty years is that it takes the comic book and sort of -it never loses it's populist nature - but it takes it into much deeper realms of psychological depths and a much darker, gothic view of the world.
CP: Which in comics you can turn trace to that
Batman that Frank Miller did in 1980…
Prinsloo: Exactly. The Dark Knight, which was really a watershed moment for graphic novels here. And I know that in Europe, in Paris, there's whole book stores dedicated to the graphic novel and the creation of the graphic novel. And the graphic novel really is, in a way, much more filmic then it is anything else because…
CP: You've got that visual element that has to be addressed.
Prinsloo: And they have jump cuts, they have close-ups. The thing that makes it more interesting to me than film is that it layers it all one on top of the other, so that it will have a larger background image, two people sitting there, of which there's a caption within it of the eyes of someone, so that you can read into it the moments that are happening between people. And it starts to become very impressionistic because you're asking the reader to look at two different things at the same time and put together what that means towards a mood.
CP: You go beyond what's actually on the page and it becomes a subjective experience.
Prinsloo: Yes. And it relies strongly on an emotive quality and atmosphere. Though it tickles the intellect, that's not the place it's looking for entry into the reader or the viewer.
CP: It's a base emotional level.
Prinsloo: Yeah. And to me, the Sherlock Holmes stories work more on that emotive, atmospheric level than they do on the intellectual level because they're always cast with these dark creatures just hovering on the edges. The Sign of Four I think is brilliant in the way it just has these bizarre twins and the place that they live.
CP: You do get a number of grotesques.
Prinsloo: Yeah and they become almost like ghost stories in a way. Holmes travelling to a sort of nether world that he operates in and comes back out into the light when things are done.
CP: Ties in to Joseph Campbell and the
Hero of a Thousand Faces, everything is in there.
Prinsloo: Yeah.
CP: You get classic myth and everything. When you talk about the lower depths, you've got the criminal underworld and everything that goes on under the guise of civility and social standards.
Prinsloo: Yeah and that's the other thing about the Holmes stories that I find fascinating is that Oscar Wilde and The Picture of Dorian Gray get a lot of attention from the 19th century as being the first novel to talk about what lies beneath humanity, that our facade is not always right there. To me, Sherlock Holmes is an incredibly subversive character from 19th century literature because he does that from the beginning. Which is to say that all of this is an illusion and if you look closely you can see 'They're lying' and 'They're doing this' and they're giving away this. There's all these other aspects if you take a minute to look. And that nothing is what it appears. There's other things lurking continually. And the criminals get off-put because they think nobody else knows their secret. And he's the one who says: "No. Actually, I do. I'm not one of you, I'm on this side." And he's also on this side by a fraction within the story. And so, to me, him and Moriarty are so close as to be brothers.
CP: Flip sides of the same coin?
Prinsloo: Yeah, and that's one of the elements, like the yin and the yang. And being able to have Stephen on board is being able to take into account all of these ideas and try to funnel them into a Holmesian, Victorian world. And explore this character from much more of a point of view of what questions we would be asking as an audience. Because we would never accept the Holmes that is in Gillette's because he's too perfect. Moriarty is too stupid. Alice is way too much a victim. Madge and Larrabee are too evil. It’s like “No, no, we know these areas are more grey”. We are much more adept psychologically speaking and more acute that way to be able to read the slight variances of humanity. And we know that exists. In 1899 they weren't as sure that existed so you had to paint very stark black and white, because they need to know who is the villain. Subtleties of people through lying and not really meaning what they say was not in the general vocabulary.
CP: So do you think you're distilling Holmes somewhat? To make him more of a grey figure? I mean we were just talking about the heroic figure but now we're talking about shades of grey in the characters rather than iconic black and white.
Prinsloo: No, actually, I think they still stay iconic black and white but what they do is stay iconic black and white within a framework that we can buy. We can't buy somebody who is just evil. Moriarty has got to be smarter than he is in the Gillette play because he's so easily duped by Holmes all the time. I also think that's part of the problem of having the lead actor write the whole play because all the good bits are Holmes's and everybody else is scraping by. And for us, the first thing is we’d like to make that balance more there, so it does become a duel between Moriarty and Holmes all the way through. That it's not a foregone conclusion that Holmes is going to win and Moriarty is going to lose. And we've just been staging that fight, there's a climatic fight. So, going back to our play, Holmes character for the most part stays the exact same because it was so well written to begin with. Where we've done a lot of the shifts is making Alice much more like Irene Adler in A Scandal in Bohemia than the melodramatic lost dame within the Gillette, and making her that strong and that Woman. There's a sort of voice over intro into each act and the one we've taken for that is just the opening section of the first paragraph of A Scandal in Bohemia and done that as the intro.
CP: To Sherlock Holmes –
Prinsloo and CP ( in unison): - she is always the woman.
Prinsloo: So that sets its up: What? You know, because Sherlock Holmes isn't supposed
to have a woman. And the other thing I loved is that it's the only story where he gets bested
by anyone.

CP: By a woman anyway. He makes a few errors occasionally but, yeah, he gets beaten and
by a woman.
Prinsloo: Yeah and she gets away clean.
CP: Yeah, she gets off completely clean.
Prinsloo: Yeah and it's the only time he doesn't let her get away. He knows he's been taken by
the end.

CP: So are you going to be playing Alice up as almost an adversarial role?
Prinsloo: No, more as a foil. And we're going to still be keeping the romantic love interest that
goes through it, but it has to be a romantic love interest that makes sense to Holmes. To me,
to Holmes right now, at the end of the play it becomes just too wishy-washy. You know?

CP: The shrinking violet with head against his chest and drop curtain.
Prinsloo: Yeah. It has to be equals as they're going through and then he sees this woman…there's something unique and different. So she turns him slightly and adds a distracting factor that becomes part of "What am I going to do as I go forward?” And he has to, "Okay, what do I do about this woman?"
CP: Well, it certainly adds a little more to it than Gillette is the hero, he gets the girl. She's the victim. There's no real reason why Sherlock Holmes would be attracted to Alice Faulkner. That's an intruiging approach.
Prinsloo: And then with Moriarty, it's the same thing. Bringing Moriarty up to be more in control and the two of them are coming to blows. So that the scene in the second act it all becomes set-up. Because Moriarty knows he's close but -and the great thing that Stephen has done, the whole thing with the Blazedale matter, it was a trap set by Moriarty to see how close Holmes is. So that the two of them are scouting each other out, and the only reason Holmes stays on this case of Alice Faulkner is because he thinks Moriarty has something to do with it. And the only reason Moriarty gets involved with it is because he thinks Holmes is involved with it. So they're both using it to play. Then the scene in the third act, when Moriarty comes to Holmes, we take it much more the impetus to be the same idea as the Reichenbach falls meeting where Holmes knows Watson is being taken away and lets him go. And in the same way as when everyone gets taken out of the room, we as an audience know what's happening. So Holmes has to know at the same moment and let them go because he knows what's coming.
CP: To set up the confrontation.
Prinsloo: And then Moriarty comes in. The basis of the meeting goes more towards the meeting
they had in
The Final Problem.
CP: Everything that has crossed my mind –
Prinsloo: - has crossed yours. And what Moriarty brings up there is the whole question of 'We need
each other' because, otherwise, life is dull and boring, isn't it? Who else are we going to find to
equal us? So, without me, what do you do?

CP: Good.
Prinsloo: And then we play that out through the fourth and fifth act. It still goes into that gas
chamber, it still becomes part of that. The fifth act we've thrown out completely and have rewritten
a new act. Because the thing about the fifth act –

CP: That's all at Doctor Watson's.
Prinsloo: Yeah and it was so anti-climatic after a great scene in the gas chamber. And then it was
like: You go to Doctor Watson's? How dull can that be?

CP: Moriarty walks in, you slap the cuffs on.
Prinsloo: You slap the cuffs on him, he goes away, you fall in love and that's it. And it's such a let down after a great fourth act. And so the challenge, when we talked to Stephen originally, was that we want to take whatever happened in the fourth act and use that as a lift-off ramp towards a fifth act that becomes even more exciting. And the fifth act now becomes your - (pause) - not to give too much away - but it becomes a true showdown between Holmes and Moriarty on Blackfriar’s bridge.
CP: Is that the set I've seen partially built downstairs?
Prinsloo: Yeah, that bridge down there. So it's the two of them meeting on a bridge.
CP: So you're going to do
The Final Problem set on Blackfriar’s bridge. You're going to have the Reichenbach sequence, more or less, on the bridge
Prinsloo: Exactly, yes. And that was the other thing. What we have to do is look towards Reichenbach falls, so that everyone who knows the Sherlock pantheon will go: Right, this is where they're playing in. This is this. For everyone else it's still a really exciting, physical atmosphere to be in because the bad guys come from one side, the good guys come from the other side and there's no getting off the bridge.
CP: That's good.
Prinsloo: And then it becomes two of them, it's all-out duel in all senses of the word. And then we also work out the whole problem of what happens with Alice and Holmes. So that all goes through right to the end. And then, like I said, layered on top of this, is also the aesthetic of the graphic novels because we have these wonderful projectors. So that part of the sets is that there's always a backdrop because we're working on a revolve.
CP: Yeah, I'd heard. This is unusual for
Theatre Calgary, isn't it?
Prinsloo: We did a revolve for Counsellor-at-Law because it also required two sets to move between and this is same thing. There's five separate sets that have to continually move in front of the audience with no sort of stop of action. And then we have a screen to cut the stage in half basically because we have to reset the set on the other side. We're using that screen as our piece so that we can project both a background to the set that's there and also we're going to put in cells, like comic book cells. So that in act one when they're torturing Alice and then there's the knock at the door there's going to be a series of cells which is someone walking down the street. And they're going to get larger and larger and it's Holmes. So that what you see in the cells becomes only what the character can see and what the audience couldn't possibly see. Or moments shared between two characters that are so small you wouldn't notice it either. So the whole thing is like Alice looking at the chair, she'll look and there'll be a cell that comes up of the chair. So that we'll see where she's looking as the action plays out. So we're both in the cinematic and graphic novel sense of directing eyeline, keeping things moving forward. This afternoon we're doing the photo shoot, shooting them all digitally, affecting them through PhotoShop and then putting them through.
CP: Fantastic.
Prinsloo: And then there's a composer going to create all the music that will run all the way through the play as well. So we can do things like underscoring. Have a romance theme. And the other thing we just decided yesterday –
CP: Sounds like a work very much in progress at this point.
Prinsloo: Oh, it is. Is to name this. It was always Sherlock Holmes: Tthe play and it's always Sherlock Holmes in - something. Or Sherlock Holmes and
CP: Oh, you’re not going to go with the original name of the play? What was it? Sherlock Holmes and the - what was it? - Sherlock Holmes: Being a Hitherto Unpublished Episode in the Career of the Great Detective and Showing His Connection with the Strange Case of Miss Alcie Faulkner blah, blah, blah?
Prinsloo: Exactly. No! In the whole re-jigging of the third act when Watson is there and trying to get the information, what's going on, give me a bit of a look into this, etc… So we're going to start the play off with credits and this is now being called Sherlock Holmes in The Woman and the Spider. Later on in the third act Watson says, give me a look into this case. What case? The case of Alice Faulkner and Professor Moriarty. Yes, yes, yes, the case of the woman and the spider. And Holmes says, "Ah, always writing."
So that's it. We're going to start off with the titles that begin the play so that it does have that effect or that sense of creating a Saturday afternoon serial. And then boom, we begin the play and then action adventure all the way through it.

CP: It sounds very, very good.
Prinsloo: I hope so.
CP: What's the single biggest challenge with this particular script or this play itself?
Prinsloo: I think the single biggest challenge is that everyone knows it. Or thinks they know it.
CP: I suspect it's more a 'think' they know it.
Prinsloo: Yeah.
CP: I mean, it hasn't had a serious run since the seventies with the
RSC revival.
Prinsloo: Yeah and it's funny because I didn't have that in consideration. It was only later that I
found out RSC did this as well. And I think that people think they know who Sherlock Holmes is
or at least they've got an opinion of who he is. Everyone was fascinated, stunned, to see the
intravenous drug use.

CP: Exactly, that was the other question: Are you touching on it or –
Prinsloo: Oh absolutely!
CP: Milking it for what it's worth?
Prinsloo: Absolutely open! I mean, he does turn upstage to shoot up because he doesn't want to
offend Watson but we have a direct cell of him shooting. So you see that from his point of view.
And the other thing I've done is taken his beautiful explanation of the drug habit in
The Sign of Four. Talking about how the world bores him and his mind races too fast and he can't. So that comes into it and it's basically the same conversation taken from that book and moved into the stage, they do talk about it. And he's going into his own, you know. And that radical sort of downward depression is directly linked back to his meeting with Alice Faulkner because she messed him up.
CP: Interesting. The gas chamber sequence, I've got to ask you, pitching us into complete darkness? Having the lighted cigar?
Prinsloo: The lighted cigar doesn't play as much prominence. And I've a trick we're doing in that section to sort of –
CP: I mean it's the key to the original play. The lit cigar that you follow along glowing, it's sitting on the window sill, lights come up, Holmes is at the top of the stairs with Alice about to head out the door. The thugs are ready to do their business.
Prinsloo: Yeah. We've changed all that.
CP: Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear…(laughs).
Prinsloo: (laughs) All those lines are still there, all of that action is still there, but there's
something else that happens beyond that now that helps to set up the new fifth act. And
that also helps to set up - the other thing about this play is that, to me, it's like con games.
Everyone is running a con, every one is running a game. One of the things I said to the
cast is that everyone is lying, all the time.

CP: Very valid with the structure of the play and as it's written originally. It's a valid point to
Prinsloo: And even Holmes is running games and Moriarty's running games. And so that
sort of ending that was in that, because that was the most climatic point in the play and
then everything was sort of down hill from there. And so instead of doing that, it's still there but there's a more climatic point that happens after that.

CP: It's part of the build up rather than the pay-off itself.
Prinsloo: Bingo! And so the cigar will still be there, those lines will still be there but there's a whole other thing that comes into play.
CP: So I take it then that you're playing this straight? No camp? Not drifting off into…?
Prinsloo: No. But it's one of the questions because, as I say, we live on the edge of chaos with this play, because it's very easy to go over into camp. The play has two masters. Moriarty must be evil. Holmes must be heroic. And the play must be adventurous. It must be entertaining. And, fulfilling all of those, it must also be well thought-out. Moriarty must still be a full and complete human being and not just playing the evil laughter. Holmes has to be flawed in his greatness so that we won't dismiss him. It's that everything has to be as deeply built as an Ibsen play but fulfil the basic requirement of it being a populist adventure.
CP: And that brings us back into the graphic novel approach? By giving it a pop culture feel?
Prinsloo: Exactly and the thing is that we're willing to go there when it becomes action movies. So that's it, trying to bring in that sense of modern melodrama, the action film, and those sorts of ideas so that the audience knows where we're living. And so things go back and forth and it'll be interesting to see how the audience reacts to it, but the other great thing about the Gillette play is that Holmes is very witty and very funny.
CP: He's got some great dialogue.
Prinsloo: Yeah. And one of my favourite jokes is that Mrs Hudson wants to see you. Well, where is she? Downstairs in the kitchen. Well then I don't think she can. And Stephen's picked up on that and added many more lines for Holmes throughout. So that he can be equally as witty. Another great line in here: Looking out the window. Admiring the fog? So that stuff keeps on coming up and so yes.
CP: There's a little subversive humour in there and wit.
Prinsloo: And he's written a great scene for Moriarty that, at the start of act two, where the person he talks about, “Make sure Davidson is killed it is done loud”. We see that now on stage. It's absolutely playing into what I think people believe him to be. And that's the other thing I talked to the cast about all the time, is that we shouldn't dismiss people's expectations. We just need to overfill their expectations.
CP: Which brings me to my question: How did you approach casting someone like a Sherlock Holmes? A figure that is so iconic, that has been portrayed a million times, he's the single most often filmed character in the history of film. I mean, how do you approach that in terms of casting? What are you looking for? What's the most important aspect in casting Sherlock Holmes?
Prinsloo: Good actors, and I don't mean it facetiously. Good action films have great actors in them. Some times the misunderstanding in Hollywood is that the action film is its own star. And so they don't bother actually getting good people. If you look at something like, one of the greatest action films to me, is The Professional.
CP: Jean Reno, yeah.
Prinsloo: Yeah and the casting all the way through there is stunning. Gary Oldman, Natalie Portman, Jean Reno, the character actors that go through it as well. They're fabulous, so that they take all these iconic characters and take them to a new place. And likewise the writing does the same thing. But to me it starts there. Like, okay, so who are the best actors that I can get to play these parts? And there's some actors in the show that I've worked with many times. And it's, can you come back and do this with me? This is what I'm doing with it, explain to them and they were, Yeah, I'd love to do that. Moriarty I knew and I knew he'd be absolutely right for this because he could play that line and be a very charming villain. And I was very lucky to find a remarkably talented young actor from Edmonton, Eric Nyland, for Holmes. Because the other thing I wanted to do with this is make it all younger. So that Holmes wasn't in his late forties. Our Holmes is - I think Eric himself is probably 27-28 and reads like his early thirties.
CP: Good. I mean that's a criticism that's constantly put against most of the film and television productions in that Holmes is usually portrayed as too old. At the beginning, in
A Study in Scarlet, he's maybe 28. So that's great.
Prinsloo: Yes. And that's the other thing, I wanted to make it was a matinee idol. To bring it back
to that sense. Holmes is someone all the women in the audience should feel a little flutter for
and that Moriarty should be strong and powerful and not this decrepit monk-like man with the
bald head. He's not, at all. He's as physically strong and commanding as Holmes is and equally
as charming.
CP: You get the sense of the foil and so on. Are we going to see the usual props? Are we going
to see Holmes in a deerstalker hat?
Prinsloo: Yes, you're going to see him in a deerstalker hat.
CP: The bent pipe?
Prinsloo: No, it won't be the calabash pipe.
CP: Oh good.
Prinsloo: It'll be just a regular, simple briar-root pipe. He'll have the deerstalker just because
that's one image I thought about giving up because it's not true, I know that. The ulster is in there
but the deerstalker is not in there that much. It's more the ulster. And the one thing we have done
with the whole show is - Jen Darbellay is the costume designer we brought on board Brilliant! -
and we've taken the whole era and slightly moved it ahead into early Edwardian as opposed to
late Victorian. Because early Edwardian changes the whole lines of the clothing, it becomes much
tighter, much more fitted, much more decadent in a way. So all the clothing has moved towards that
and it becomes very archetyal. And there's some archetypes moving in there, you know, there's one
coat in there that
The Matrix would have been happy to have.
CP: Oh-kay.
Prinsloo: And the thing is that all of it, funny enough, is absolutely period, because early Edwardian is one of the most interesting and sexy eras for clothing. The female shape tightens right down. It's the introduction of brand new fabrics that weren't existing before that. Leather starts to come into play, different types of wools. The other thing Jen has done is kept it in a whole other palette. So it much more, again, going to the palette of graphic novels which is darker. Like when it's red, it's not red it's sort of wine. And so playing on that, so his ulster cloak is an ulster cloak absolutely, but it's line is just a little bit more exaggerated. When it hangs on him it's armour, it's not a fussy coat.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen really did impact you, didn't it?
Prinsloo: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I looked at that and just went: That's magnificent! And I know that's absolutely the wrong period, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but we've taken some of those ideas and found it's period stuff. Because there's a coat for Moriarty that's just magnificent. It's absolutely sheik leather and it's out of a catalogue from 1904. It's absolutely the thing that was being worn then because it was the new motoring coats. And this also is one of the things that we've done. You know, Moriarty is a man of the 20th century. He's a man of industrialization. His lair is sort of reminiscent of a factory, this underground factory. And I even think in the play it's quite neat the whole thing with: Number? Correct, and the buzzing in. So he's using electricity which is brand new for it's moment in time.
CP: More or less, yeah.
Prinsloo: But he's reaching forward. So all his henchman are just that, henchmen. They are dressed to be. They're dressed for one purpose only. And they're kept on retainer by Moriarty for one purpose only which is to do what he wants.
CP: This all sounds very interesting.
CP: Well everyone I’ve spoken to connected with this production has indicated that I will be blown away by the scope of this production and the designs, so I’m curious to see what happens with this.
Prinsloo: And that's one of the great advantages to our theatre is that we have remarkable resources. We have things that we can do here that most other theatres in this city can't, and so this is a play that harnesses and makes the best work of them because it's doing things like the rotating stage, the cells, the music, the sound. All of that sort of stuff and using it all towards the idea, not of just Wow-ing people but of trying to tell a fascinating and mythical story.
CP: That's part of the thrill for us, the Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts, in that having this at
Theatre Calgary, for us, is a big deal because Sherlock Holmes has come of theatrical age here.
Prinsloo: Yeah, I thought it was very interesting when I saw the RSC did it because it was the same thing with them. All of a sudden it was like, yes, let's do this, but let's put everything behind it. And that's exactly what it is. Let's put everything behind it, big cast, lots of sets, lots of ideas, put it all in and redefine it in an aesthetic that pays homage to its origins but translates it forward to a modern aesthetic and in a language that we play with.
CP: Ian, thank you for taking the time out of your rehearsal schedule to meet with us. Looking forward to the production..
Prinsloo: Well, thank you.
CP: Yes, based on the Straggler of ‘15. The old vet who has nothing else as a claim to fame.
Prinsloo: And Tony Van Bridge in a way holds the same esteem within the company that, within the story, the old vet holds for both the younger people, his niece and the young soldier. So to have Tony Van Bridge doing the piece that was basically an homage to someone of a past generation who had done remarkable things gave the play it's real heart and life. So it was great, it was great to be able to have him and to do that. I mean, it's a small play. I think it was twenty minutes read and I slowed it down a lot and there was a whole beginning to it and so it ended up being thirty-five minutes to it and that was it. But it was lovely. It was a lot of fun to work on.
CP: So what brings you to Sherlock Holmes?
Prinsloo: First of all, I have a great love of the Victorian era, and that world, I always think, is fascinating. I'm also very interested in bringing pieces from other eras and to see how those translate and how we can bring them forward. One of the things that I think is important that we do as a theatre is find the classics, the gems that have been forgotten, and recapture them for staging in front of audiences and give a glimpse into what past generations found exciting and interesting. As for Sherlock Holmes – well, to be quite honest I had never read any Sherlock Holmes before I started doing this play. I knew of him, I'd seen some of the movies. Young Sherlock Holmes. For me it's a great version. And so when I was looking at last year's season, this Sherlock Holmes by Gillette…I'd read it a few years ago and was fascinated by the piece because he wrote this piece, sort of in conjunction with Doyle, at a time before cinema. So in a time when theatre was still the sort of place where stars found vehicles. Where the action adventure was born. Eugene O'Neil's father played the Count of Monte Cristo for thirty years…
CP: And, of course, Gillette did the same with -
Prinsloo: Yeah, with this. I read one version from the farewell tour 1932.
CP: When he was 82 or so.
Prinsloo: And one reviewer saying there's nothing greater to him than to sit in the theatre and watch William Gillette play Sherlock Holmes because it reminds him of being eight years old again.
CP: Right, it was Booth Tarkington actually, if I recall –
Prinsloo: Yes, I think it was.
CP: I'd sooner see Gillette in Holmes than to be a child –
Prinsloo: - on Christmas morning. Yes, that's it.
CP: It's a great comment.
Prinsloo: And it all goes to that sort of era of theatre that has gone past us. About the adventure, the swashbuckling romance and the use of theatre to be something that film has since taken over in a way. Great popular culture on the stage. So all of these ideas about it fascinated me.
And the character of Holmes, especially the character of Holmes as Gillette brings him out, which, to me, is much more towards those first 24 stories… there's a dark nature to this character. There's a very sort of 1890s decadent style about who this man is. And I always say Sherlock Holmes is no one I would like to have at a dinner party because he's not that socially amiable. He's not that kind of a person because he's obsessive about one thing. So all of those things, and I have a great love of action films - and that sort of fascination of that era, that Victorian era which comes out of that fascination of theatre, about that moment in which this play was originally created and trying to find a way to capture that again. Bring it forward to our stage. And my own fascination with the character as written, this dark hero.

CP: Which probably references why you ran
Dracula a couple years ago.
Prinsloo: Exactly.
CP: Same period.
Photo from 1900 Garrick Theatre Souvenir Program with Gillette as Holmes
Photo from 1900 Garrick Theatre Souvenir Program with Gillette as Holmes
Photo from 1900 Garrick Theatre Souvenir Program with Gillette as Holmes
Photo from 1900 Garrick Theatre Souvenir Program with Gillette as Holmes
Photo from 1900 Garrick Theatre Souvenir Program with Gillette as Holmes
For more information on Theatre Calgary or to order tickets for Sherlock Holmes visit the
Theatre Calgary Website by clicking here!
here to read our review of the play!
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