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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Arthur Conan Doyle Appreciation Society, theatre review

Published in the Guardian

Traverse Theatre
Three stars
IN THE bar at the Traverse, there's a blackboard where the audience can vote on whether they believe in the afterlife or not. At my last count, the sceptics had the majority. But, even as an atheist, you feel a bit of a spoilsport for chalking up your belief that this is as good as it gets.

There's a similar sense of ambivalence inside the theatre, where artistic director Orla O'Loughlin has drafted in touring company Peepolykus to consider the strange case of Arthur Conan Doyle. On the one hand, the Edinburgh-born author invented one of fiction's greatest rational minds in the shape of Sherlock Holmes; on the other, he was a Christian spiritualist who wrote a credulous book called The Coming of the Fairies. Harry Houdini called him "a wonderful but gently gullible man".

In Peepolykus's spin on this theme, a PhD philosophy student called Jennifer McGeary (a suitably earnest Gabriel Quigley) tries to deliver an illustrated lecture entitled "Why Do We Continue to Believe in the Afterlife?", yet repeatedly undermines her own scepticism by attempting to communicate with her dead grandmother. Meanwhile, the two actors she has hired for the occasion – Peepolykus mainstays Javier Marzan and John Nicholson – try not to be spooked by the flickering lights, mysterious bumps and magical illusions.

In the vain hope of one day staging The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes, Marzan and Nicholson insist on acting out scenes from The Reichenbach Falls and The Hound of the Baskervilles to demonstrate McGeary's points. As genuine historical research gets muddled with knockabout comedy, the show takes on the chaotic air of a Peter Glaze sketch from Crackerjack. At times, it is very funny, but at other times, only mildly amusing, meaning the show never quite finds the level of comic delirium – or post-Enlightenment debate – to make it compelling.
© Mark Fisher, 2012

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