Wednesday, December 25, 2013

"Many Happy Returns" - 'Sherlock' as Sonnet.

This post is a personal response to the Sherlock Series 3 Mini-Episode currently available to view on the BBC's iPlayer and Red Button. Please do not read it if you have not yet seen 'Many Happy Returns' OR have avoided it, preferring to await 'The Empty Hearse'.

With considerable trepidation I've just watched seven richly multi-layered minutes of television that belie their brevity. I'm glad I did.

Two years ago come the 30th of January the last moments of 'Sherlock' (until now) in the BBC Canon inspired 'Markings'. Specifically, I thought Martin Freeman's John remarkable in his grief. I still do.

Rumour, the hype of teasers, my ambivalence over limited screenings and the underworld of internet spoilers combined to dull the edge of simple anticipation. In the end, I chose to view because the new episode wasn't billed as a trailer and was on general release.

I was familiar with the conventional 'minisode'. This is a different animal. The content of Many Happy Returns has crucial significance to the cycle's narrative arc and its sophisticated construction is on a higher artistic plane.

Form fascinates me in literature and film and as far as I can see Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have invented a new one - the filmic equivalent to poetry's sonnet. The raison d'etre of 'Many Happy Returns' is to encapsulate in seven minutes far longer passages of time. As with the sonnet there is here a masterly artistic compression. Consider the surprising density achievable by some thoughts in Twitter form. We RT them or Favourite as a salute to ingenuity. The new 'Sherlock' is just such a tweet of a film.

We are in Doctor Who (and Star Trek) territory in turning to consider the multiplicity of time spans represented by these seven minutes:

- the (as yet unrevealed) dramatic time that elapses between Reichenbach Fall's graveyard scene and the forthcoming opening to The Empty Hearse.

- our 2-year wait for Sherlock3.

- the Great Hiatus of May 4, 1891 to the cusp of March/April, 1894.

- the decade that passed between December, 1893's The Final Problem and October, 1903's The Empty House.

- the corresponding few minutes related in The Empty House where Holmes describes to Watson the missing years.

I am impressed by the writers' creative restraint, faultless Sherlockian logic, sureness of touch and powers of imagination.

Ever aware of a viewer's priorities, internal spoilers are scrupulously avoided. An elegantly constructed succession of hints (such as the Canon Holmes was wont to offer Lestrade) economically sketches (as in charcoal) two strong and interwoven narrative threads: the imminent Return and life as it is without Sherlock. No element is elaborated further, the writers' watchword being at the centre of the script in Sherlock's (pre-recorded) "Only lies have detail."
Via Anderson's map and the comedy of Greg Lestrade's futile refusal to entertain the notion Sherlock Lives! the writers conduct us on a whistle-stop tour of the detective's secret activities, faithfully re-creating Doyle's graduated 'reincarnation' (I elaborate on this stylistic technique HERE ).

What is totally new and logically original about Many Happy Returns is the provision of explicit insight into John's state - the central element of an authorial decision to embed our experience of the resurgent Sherlock in John's everyday world.

The inspirational device of Greg's (ironically retained) 'uncut version' of Sherlock's CD is delightfully, perfectly apt in a television experience. Its title, of course, puns poetically. As significant is the consummate recourse to a convention familiar to viewers. Those other Doctors, Who and Spock, impart knowledge to the present of the future from the past. Jesus did too.

In essence the film is a labour of love, a deftly fashioned, celebratory expression of something denied the readers of The Strand - foreknowledge with certainty that Sherlock Holmes was poised to return.

I'll leave it (aptly) there. It's Christmas Day and I've a guinea fowl to enjoy. After such an entrée, courtesy those cordon bleu chefs, Moffat and Gatiss, I prophesy it will go down all the better.

It gives me inordinate pleasure to note not only does Sherlock Live but the creators and actors of Many Happy Returns are firing on all cylinders too.

Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC's  "Sherlock - Many Happy Returns".



Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Conan Doyle - Actor.

Court of Appeal in Session - "The Abbey Grange" Granada TV.
"See here, Captain Crocker, we’ll do this in due form of law. You are the prisoner. Watson, you are a British jury, and I never met a man who was more eminently fitted to represent one. I am the judge. Now, gentleman of the jury, you have heard the evidence. Do you find the prisoner guilty or not guilty?”
“Not guilty, my lord,” said I."
("The Abbey Grange" pub 1904).

Conan Doyle - Actor.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle spent the afternoon of Tuesday June 16th, 1906, at the theatre. Queues had formed during the night and by noon thousands were packed into cavernous Drury Lane to pay tribute to Ellen Terry on the occasion of her 50th year on stage. 

As a member of the General Committee organizing this commemorative benefit, Doyle had a ticket...and a 45 minute role to play on stage.

"The Jury" by John Morgan, 1861.

 The main item in the first half of this 6 hour extravaganza was a performance of Gilbert & Sullivan's comic opera Trial By Jury. The first of the Savoy operas, it had been an instant success in 1875 and fast became a standard through revivals and theatrical benefits, its brevity and light wit making it an ideal centrepiece. By 1906, the songs, dialogue and traditions of performing Trial By Jury were as familiar as The Last Night of the Proms today.

Gilbert himself (as on this occasion) played The Associate at several benefits and, in joining the all-male Jury, Conan Doyle participated in a tradition that populated the court with notable guest appearances. Some were actors; most were not, and part of the fun was spotting them amongst the jury and bridesmaids, on the seats by Council or Bench and in the crowded court.

Conan Doyle had, of course, lectured and given readings in major theatres and prestigious settings at home and abroad. This was something different - a dramatic role. Even a minor part in a G & S benefit before several thousand people at Drury Lane must concentrate the mind wonderfully. Watch these few minutes of a 1953 (traditional) production for a taste of what Doyle's part entailed.

For further familiarity with the opera you can read the vocal score on line HERE .

Doyle's Fellow Players.

Copies of the programme survive and faithfully name everyone involved in the production. There is a special frisson of interest in the lists of committees & performers for Doyle and Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts.

Alongside ACD on the General Committee sat Charles Frohman. James Welch & Seymour Hicks served on both General & Executive committees. Welch had recently (1902) directed the popular Holmes parody Sheerluck Jones at Terry's Theatre. Hicks has gone down in history as the co-author and (first) Doctor Watson in 1893's Under the Clock revue. His wife, Ellaline Terriss (friend and associate of Frohman and Gilbert) will perform later in the show.

On stage with ACD in a seat by Council is Sydney Grundy who wrote the play A Pair of Spectacles in which Sir John Hare created the role Sherlock Holmes makes reference to in A Scandal in Bohemia. Gilbert Hare (John's son) is one of the Crowd in Court.

With Gilbert Hare stands C. Aubrey Smith who, apart from playing cricket against ACD, is to become a close friend of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, appearing as the Elderly Gent on Train in Terror by Night years later.

Most deliciously is the presence in court of not one but two Napoleons of Crime. Rubbing shoulders in the Court Crowd are Gillette's Moriarty, W L Abingdon, and Arthur Wontner's nemesis, Lyn Harding.

I'll return briefly to Conan Doyle but the rest of the programme and the significance of Terry's Jubilee in that time of great transition are too striking to ignore.

Highlights of the Jubilee Programme.

All credit to Bram Stoker and his associate Drury Lane managers for mounting a production of unparalleled length and lavish complexity. The logistics are military in scale. A veritable Hydra of egos (noble and celebrity) to be reconciled. Non-actors backstage. And even further behind the scenes disagreement, prejudice and the over-arching bitter-sweetness of it all, for (as Terry acknowledged that afternoon) the absence of that other national treasure, Sir Henry Irving, was keenly felt. Plans had been discussed for their joint Jubilee but he had passed away the previous October. His son, known as H B Irving, joined Ellen Terry on stage in the second half performance of Much Ado's first act. He will act with Basil Rathbone 8 years later at The Savoy and found Our Society (London's Murder Club) with Conan Doyle.

On the day there's no doubt it was a roaring success. Here is The Times response: "Some thousands of Londoners devoted what was virtually the whole of a working day to a theatrical debauch. From shortly after noon to six o'clock they filled Drury Lane with a riot of enthusiasm, a torrent of emotion, a hurly-burly of excitement, 'thunders of applause.' They cheered 'til they were hoarse, laughed to the verge of hysteria, and sang 'Auld Lang Syne' in chorus, not without tears." The Times commentator added, "For half a century Ellen Terry has been appealing to our hearts. Whatever the anti-sentimentalists might say, that is the simple truth.…A creature of the full-blooded, naïve emotions she excites those emotions in us."

Please now download and open this  pdf file of the University of California's copy of the souvenir programme. I just have one or two further observations. CLICK HERE

To Harry Fragson, music hall singer and comedian, went the honour of opening the show after the overture. HERE he is in 1906 singing 'Sapho'.  Shortly before his death in 1913 (murdered by his insane father) he recorded his best known song Hello, Hello, Who's Your Lady Friend?' An equally famous comedian, George Graves, will cover the scene change (compere-style) after ACD's spot. Imagine the Edwardian equivalent of Les Dawson - Graves was well loved as 'the pillar of Drury Lane at Christmastime' in pantomime. 

'Trial by Jury' was preceded by a great English actress, Mrs Patrick Campbell (speaking HERE on the art of dramatic speech) and followed by a great French actor, Coquelin (with his son). Bernhardt's male lead on Broadway, this legendary Cyrano de Bergerac had but three years to live.

I urge the reader to follow the link at the foot of this post to Nina Auerbach's superbly illuminating chapter in 'Ellen Terry: Player in her Time' on the Terry family disagreements, gender prejudice and historical significance of Terry's Jubilee. Suffice it to note here that, without Ellen Terry's intervention, she would have been the only female on or off stage. A revealing, astounding story.

For now, please note in the Tableaux Vivants such delicacies as vi. Rival Beauties featuring Constance Collier and Edna May in a scene arranged by Alma-Tadema. Imagine too the awe with which the assembly must have witnessed Lily Langtry revealed as Cleopatra.

Scenes from plays (The Rivals & Much Ado) bestride the impossibly short interval of twelve minutes (during which, one presumes, ACD and others took their reserved seats to watch...

Clan Terry and Ellen herself play the first act of Shakespeare's play. The red indicators in the programme are a printed guide to the actress's family. See the lovely Edmund Gwenn as Balthazar? 

How to follow Terry? Answer - Enrico Caruso who has travelled from Italy with the great composer, Paulo Tosti, here to accompany the tenor in (I believe) the Toreador Song from Carmen. Caruso created the part of  Don José in San Francisco the night before the great earthquake, in April 1906. Here he is (please read the uploader's notes):

Finally here, I would draw your attention to the list of other attendees at the closing Reception - Madame Duse.

As Auerbach records, Terry was very moved by Eleanora Duse's presence. Often ill, the great Italian actress (Bernhardt's rival), had travelled from Florence. She did not need to take the stage - she carried one with her everywhere she went.

One last recording before I return to Conan Doyle. Here is Ellen Terry herself as Portia in 1923:

Conan Doyle Juryman.

In the course of my research I found a link to the list of D'Oyly Carte productions of Trial by Jury. When you click on the link provided, scroll to the Drury Lane production and left click the photo of W S Gilbert as Associate. A pop-up appears which is a photograph of the whole jury. I must assume it to be one of the cast photographs taken that day by The Dover Studio (see programme credits). If my assumption is correct, one of the twelve is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Actor. 

For my own purposes I used my clipping tool to capture the image so I might magnify it. I shall not reproduce that here. You may wish to do the same. I am down to two potential ACD's on zoom and should be interested to hear any comments on this photograph. I have never seen it before. CLICK HERE .

For the Auerbach chapter on the Terry Jubilee: CLICK HERE . You may need to scroll the Google extract up to the chapter opening.

I close this post with a quotation from Ellen Terry that applies equally (in its first part) to Conan Doyle. Her Jubilee Motto:

      “And one man in his life plays many parts”
                             (And so does a woman!)

Post Script.

Troopers that they were, at the end of a tiring and emotional afternoon, many of the professional cast walked  to work from Drury Lane to their respective theatres - Terry (with some relief) too. She was glad finally to lose herself in the character of Lady Cicely Waynflete in Shaw's 'Captain Brassbound's Conversion' at The Court Theatre. 

ACD's presence on that all-male jury carries its own bittersweet irony in view of the fact his wife, Touie, was already fatally ill and would pass away on July 4th. For him, as for many another, at the very moment of celebrating continuity, life was irrevocably changing.

 Ray Wilcockson 2013.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

November Three 1933 - Happy Birthday JB. (for Jeremy Brett & John Barry).

JB the Actor.
"Sometimes in this life you meet people who are what you might call 'large-souled' who are a privilege to know. Croker is one of those". (Mr Viviani, 'The Abbey Grange' Granada TV)

So, for me, were two men known by the same initials, born on the same day in 1933: Jeremy Brett and John Barry.

JB the Composer.
Neither is still with us but I doubt their legacy and memory will ever die. Both men dignified their respective professions and crowned them by embodying through performance and music the most authentic portrayals we have of Sherlock Holmes and James Bond. Both exuded a generosity of spirit and enduring commitment to their craft. They are deeply missed.

Next time you watch The Master Blackmailer  (Granada 1992) watch out for the Art Gallery Owner. The actor is David Scase. His wife is also in the cast: she is Rosalie Williams, Brett's Mrs Hudson. Rewind to 1954.

We are at The Library Theatre, Manchester. Jeremy Brett is playing Cassio to Rosalie Williams' Desdemona. The man she married, David Scase, is the director.

JB & Rosalie on Granada TV.

I think JB was well loved. Here's Rosalie Williams (quote via IMDb): "I used to call it embroidery. Jeremy used to embroider things for me in my part. There's very little in the actual writing for Mrs. Hudson, and he used to come up with lovely little inventions, like pieces, like when he gave me a flower in one episode. There were lots of moments like that, where Holmes revealed that Mrs. Hudson was so very close to him - which isn't in the stories, but is something that developed because it was Jeremy and me. I miss Mrs. Hudson very, very much. I got to love her very much. Once, I was on the set, I was her and it was my room and everything had to be just so. I flooded into her with great ease and great pleasure."

Sometimes words fail me. Thank God for music. Here in 2013, remembering two lovely, talented men I dip into that Good Old Youtube Index to find three pieces of music that express the inexpressible. Two were hit songs in 1933, the other is forever 1969.
Happy Birthday, Gentle Men.

1Stormy Weather sung by Ethel Waters (1933). 

2. 42nd Street sung by Ruby Keeler (1933).

3. We Have All The Time In The World instrumental (1969)

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Road to The Lyceum - Part 2 - Gillette's "Sherlock Holmes" in Liverpool.

Acknowledge Photo via Stage Whispers Blog by Carla Cushman.
When Gillette returned to England with his 'Sherlock Holmes' in 1901 it was upon a wave of success. Sir Henry Irving had seen the play early in its 235 performance run at the 910 capacity Garrick NY and invited Gillette to bring his production to London's Royal Lyceum. The first of 216 performances took place on Monday, September 9. The Museum of New York has a superb archive of photographs from The Garrick. Please view them HERE . 

It is well known that prior to its London premier, the play was tried out in Liverpool. This post takes us to that city's (lost) Shakespeare Theatre, which, opened in 1888, had an estimated capacity (in 1894) of 3,500. It was just as well, for, as we shall see, such a venue proved ideal preparation for a Lyceum much larger than the Duke of York's for which Frohman's production was originally intended. Tickets for a performance of Sherlock Holmes would be gold dust in both cities.

This leviathan of theatres closed during the 1960's after Sam Wanamaker's stint as Artistic Director. A fire lead to its demolition in 1976. The Arthur Lloyd website has much of interest HERE .

On 21st September, The New York Dramatic Mirror published an informative review of the first night performance of Monday, 2nd September, written by its special London correspondent. Submitted on the 6th, it records a 200 mile journey to join 'an enormous audience...jammed with the best playgoers, American, English, Irish and otherwise'.

The review content is representative of the general view - that the play is a melodrama elevated to an exceptional dramatic level by Gillette's central performance and novel, thrilling stage effects. The combination of an American superstar and Doyle's Sherlock Holmes is irresistible and booking is already heavy for the forthcoming Lyceum season. Some of the players were very nervous, Gillette (initially) a little too 'preachy', but great success seems certain.

Elsewhere, the article throws light on several related areas of interest. We learn something of the Shakespeare's management (well known in America). The article actually opens with a reference to the recent attack on President McKinley and takes that opportunity to stress the Edwardian equivalent of 'The Special Relationship'.

Quite fascinating is the section revealing contemporary copyright issues which leads on from a discussion of why, perhaps, Doyle's short stories are not readily adaptable for the stage. Max Goldberg's 'Bank of England' (a melodrama featuring a  pirated Sherlock Holmes character) is, we learn, playing on suburban stages. They say there's no bad publicity - Goldberg's other current offering 'The Secrets of the Harem' drew the crowds after the Turkish embassy had it prohibited and renamed 'Secrets'. With a wry smile the article tells of an attempt on Thursday 5th by the executors of the estate of the late Charles Rogers to ban Frohman, Gillette & Doyle from using the name 'Sherlock Holmes', citing that playwright's own copyright performance in Hanley, prior to the 1894 Glasgow production of his pirated play 'Sherlock Holmes. Private Detective', starring the elusive John Webb. I leave the reader to savour this in the article which may be read HERE .

Euston Station, London 1896.

  I am fascinated by the logistics that must have been involved in transporting and mounting a transatlantic production  in 1901. Gillette brought his own scenery with him - a plus for Irving in the deal - along with select members of the play's American cast. Given that standard references on the internet indicate certainly only with regard to one performance in Liverpool (on Monday 2nd), I had jumped (as often!) to the assumption Gillette's company had done the easy thing and sailed to Liverpool and so to its theatre. While the port of arrival and immediate destination remain unclear an article in Sydney's Evening News for 10 October, 1901, places Gillette and company in London on Saturday 31st August for a rehearsal at The Lyceum and leaving for Liverpool on a 9am special, Sunday morning. In those days this was at least a five hour journey. The entire train was first class. Gillette certainly did things in style. On arrival they were greeted by such a crowd Gillette's carriage had difficulty leaving the station. 

The article states the Liverpool engagement was 'to try it (the play) on the dog'  and concludes that 'Dog took kindly to it.' So kindly that 'Hundreds turned away; not a seat to be had. Booked right up to end of week.

The last remark would seem to refer most naturally to Liverpool and thus indicates the play continued there until Friday or Saturday. The full article may be read HERE .

If you clicked the link you will have noted the report was submitted on 6th September and was written by Emily Soldine, music & theatre London correspondent for the paper, with input from her son who was a member of the company and had written to her on Tuesday 3rd. He is clearly having the time of his life. And she is just as clearly the proud mum (a theatrical one, as we shall discover.) 

Gillette's English Cast.

Having observed that Emily Soldene had a family connection, I decided to research her son and, at length, the other members of the company assembled to perform Sherlock Holmes in his home country. What I found proved both a fascinating animated  kaleidoscope of Anglo-American 'freetrade' in the world of theatre AND a judicious selection process which brought together a cast that would facilitate acceptance of an American play in the heart of London's theatre land and also ensure Gillette was unrivalled - the biggest, brightest diamond in a setting of less precious jewels.

I hope, by looking in more detail at his supporting actors, to understand more fully the unquestionable  success of Gillette's play in England as well as recording the work of actors and actresses mostly long forgotten. This will be the subject of my next post On the Road to The Lyceum.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Road to The Lyceum - The Earliest English Performances of William Gillette's "Sherlock Holmes".

PART ONE (The Copyright Performance of 1899).

On Saturday, October 14, 1894, Arthur Conan Doyle was in Chicago, watching the play 'Aladdin Jr'. Also occupying a box that night in the same Opera House was a young Broadway producer, Charles Frohman...

Time passes...

It is now Monday, June 12, 1899. Arthur Conan Doyle is giving a talk to Rider Haggard's Anglo-African Writers' Club. Kipling had been guest speaker the year before. Appropriately, the dinner club met at The Heart of the Empire, in the Grand Hotel, Trafalgar Square.

Meanwhile, a short walk away up Charing Cross Road, an audience of just three people are witnessing a play 'performance' in the Duke of York's Theatre on St. Martin's Lane. Built in 1892 as The Trafalgar Square Theatre, this 640 seat auditorium is currently let on a long lease to American impresario, Charles Frohman. He is present now, alongside fellow American, William Gillette, and Miss Annie Russell.

Frohman has secured staging rights to Doyle's Sherlock Holmes character on a visit to London in 1898. Gillette has written a Sherlock Holmes play based on Doyle's initial script. This is a 'performance' to secure copyright. 

My source for this information is The Auckland Star, 12 August, 1899 which may be read HERE .

The occasion raises three matters of interest:- Who was Annie Russell and what was she doing there? What actually happened at this copyright 'performance'? Why, if the report is correct, was Doyle not at the Duke of York's, given his co-authorship of the play?

Annie Russell.

Here she is in 1899, aged 35. This Liverpool-born actress played the title role in Gillette's early hit play 'Esmerelda' (1881). Her career was punctuated by recurrent illness. Frohman contributed to her medical costs and the reason she is in London in June, 1899, is clarified in The New York Times of August 11, 1898. The article is centrally about Charles Frohman's five month visit to England and details his agreement with Doyle over staging rights to Sherlock Holmes and the notion of Gillette playing The Great Detective. It may be read HERE .

On this June 12 evening, she may not be feeling well. Her Wikipedia entry quotes The New York Times for May 17,1899: "Annie Russell too ill to rehearse" and that she returns to America in June. I suspect this will be in the company of her fellow audience members when they sail for New York, docking on the 24th.

I conclude that Miss Russell's presence is a gesture of solicitous companionship by the two men and a means for Frohman to keep a weather eye on one of his London acting stable. She may, however, have had her uses that evening. 

Russell, like many other actresses, was something of a fashion icon, admired for her classic taste in costume both on and off stage. A 1900 edition of 'The Ladies' Home Journal' carried a full-page article on her dresses with photographs by Sarony and Pach. It is reasonable to suppose she would have practical, expert suggestions to make on the costuming of the play presented this night.

The Copyright Performance. 

It is possible Annie Russell was invited for an additional reason. If The Auckland Star is accurate in labelling this threesome as 'Audience' who was performing? The play has no scenery, no lighting, no cast - these will not be in place until the American premier months later. It was often the case that a stage manager's 'reading' of a new play fulfilled the needs of copyright. It is unlikely Gillette's stage manager, William Postance, travelled to London just to stand on an empty stage and read out the play.

It's possible, of course, that a resident SM perhaps supported by a scratch cast performed. In the absence of other evidence, my instinct is that Gillette would use the evening to as much dramatic advantage as possible. He'll want to get a feel for the theatre (Frohman's original choice for the play's projected London venue). I can't imagine him (as playwright and lead) NOT speaking Sherlock Holmes' lines himself. 

I'm tempted to believe the three of them sat in the stalls and read out the play between them, (Annie -later to be a drama teacher- sight-reading the female roles), occasionally stopping to make production notes. This makes eminent sense to me as an (amateur) actor and director. Whether Gillette dressed himself as Holmes we may never know. It was certainly possible - he had done precisely that only days before in order to meet (for the first time) Arthur Conan Doyle.

Doyle's Absence from the Copyright Performance.

In theory, Doyle may have attended both events on that June day. I am assuming the reading was in the evening, thus clashing with Doyle's dinner and speech, arranged since April, according to Rider Haggard's memos to his club secretary. As already indicated, the two venues were within walking distance.

For two reasons, however, my sense is that Doyle had little motivation or practical reason to attend the copyright performance. The date is June, 1899 - October will see the outbreak of the Second Boer War. This night, Doyle's mind would be on more pressing matters than Sherlock Holmes.

In any case, the whole thing had been set in motion...and Doyle had already had a privileged preview both of Gillette's impersonation of his creation and the play itself. We know from Doyle's letter of Monday, May 29 to Mary Doyle: 'Gillette is over with the Sherlock Holmes play...I hope to meet him tomorrow and get him down here (to Undershaw) for the weekend.'  On June 17 he is able to write to Innes: ' "Sherlock Holmes" is going to be grand. I talked it all over with Gillette.'

In his book, 'William Gillette, America's Sherlock Holmes', Henry Zecher describes that famous first meeting at the local railway station when Gillette travelled to Undershaw: 'Sherlock Holmes himself stepped onto the platform...Sitting in his landau Doyle contemplated the apparition with open-mouthed awe.'

Gillette arrived in costume and in character. Over a delightful weekend the actor read the play to Doyle who remarked: 'It's good to see the old chap again.' And a new friendship was cemented.

I suggest that, given this context, there was no reason for Doyle to go to the Duke of York's on the 12th - he had already heard the play from the lips of Gillette himself. In fact, judging by the available information, I'd maintain Undershaw saw a more conclusive Copyright Performance than the dark house on St. Martin's Lane - dramatic, no doubt and given the blessing of Sherlock Holmes' creator.

Part Two of The Road to The Lyceum will pick up the story of Gillette's play on English stages in September, 1901. To go directly to Part 2 (now published) please click HERE .

NB: Vampire Over London - The Bela Lugosi Blog has an extremely detailed description of the Copyright Performance given at The Lyceum on May 18, 1897  to secure Bram Stoker's dramatic rights to 'Dracula'. The blog provides a glimpse of how such performances were conducted and may help to throw light on Gillette's 1899 play reading. It may be read HERE





Thursday, July 25, 2013

"A Case of Nudity." - "The Observation of Trifles" in the Granada Holmes (3) The Final Problem.

Artist's Nude "The Final Problem" Granada TV.

This is the third in my occasional series 'The Observation of Trifles' in which I'm highlighting some of the fine detail to be found in the Granada/Brett television project.

Today's story is 'The Final Problem'  following on from 'The Red Headed League' which I looked at HERE after 'The Resident Patient'. 

Introductory Note. 

Hawkesworth's screenplay is a master class in adaptation and I would rate his work on REDH & FINA on a par with the well-known  film screenplays of du Maurier's short stories, 'The Birds' and 'Don't Look Now'. Each 'unpacks', elaborates upon hints and brief allusions found in the original, thus achieving greater fidelity to the original than would an uninspired literal script. Uniquely, the Granada writers are also just as aware that each episode must integrate with the bigger picture of Holmes' career, personality and relationships.

Basis for The Louvre Plot.

Thus (if I may remind the reader) Granada extrapolates and dramatizes the Paris scenes from but three hints in Doyle's FINA:
(1) Watson's reference to seeing news reports in the winter and early Spring of 1891 that Holmes 'had been engaged by the French Government upon a matter of supreme importance'.
(2) Holmes' mention of 'recent...assistance to the French Republic'.
(30) Moriarty's notes beginning 'You crossed my path on the 4th of January'. (With no specific reference to the foiled bank robbery in REDH or France and the Mona Lisa.)

Justification for The Louvre Plot.

(1) As it stands, much of FINA consists of Sherlock Holmes relating events to Watson in 221b. (Just imagine filming without dramatizing the events he describes).
(2) Unlike Doyle's first Strand readers, a modern audience knows both the ending of FINA and that Holmes returns in EMPT. This makes it a different story with new reactions and possibilities.
(3) Moriarty's criminal genius is barely illustrated by ACD - Eric Porter's Professor puts flesh on those gaunt bones, without being over-exposed.
(4) Jeremy Brett (at the top of his game) may be unleashed to illuminate fascinating traits of the Great Detective. I shall now focus on this.

The Fine Detail of the Artist's Studio Scene.

Please watch the whole Parisian sequence which begins about 8.10 on Youtube.


Consider. The Mona Lisa robbery could have been realised and filmed without the nude model sequence. So why is it there? It's actually risky territory with Conan Doyle, especially in a series essaying fidelity to the Canon and its period.

I think it a tribute to Granada's esteem for Jeremy Brett as an actor that the scene was written and what is achieved is a memorable illustration of precisely how three aspects of the detective's personality harmonise rather than conflict, allowing his talents full rein. I refer to his artistic sense, his analytic skills and his attitude to women. 

[It is not my object here but the reader may care to contrast this scene with the BBC Sherlock's encounter with a naked Irene Adler in A Scandal in Belgravia.]

I suspect Brett takes his cue from the line 'Now I begin to see the delicacy of the matter.' From which point we are treated to Holmes the Aesthete. It's important preparation for the nude scene, reinforced by his expressed opinion 'This one (copy of the Mona Lisa) seems well done'. Which assessment of course leads to visiting that artist's studio.

The camera segues to the studio scene thus: Mona Lisa copy in the Louvre cellar - nude body of the model - nude cartoon (see above illustration) - Holmes and studio copy of Mona Lisa.

Brett remains totally at ease, totally absorbed in the artist's method and the da Vinci copy. We look, with the Louvre official, at the nude model; Brett doesn't. She is deliberately very sexy and attractive. The Director of the Louvre is patently taken and even crosses to the far window (perchance to dream?).

"The Final Problem" Granada TV.

A long shot then establishes that she is in Holmes' line of sight but Brett betrays not a trace of interest or response.

There is the whole story in one very telling image. Men like the Director cannot resist a pretty girl. He is much more interested in her than (irony!) the Mona Lisa. One may even speculate Moriarty took advantage of similar lapses in focus and security to steal the painting. 
Between the nude and Brett's Holmes stands the easel image which 'says' Holmes notes her as merely a model for art and works as a metaphoric barrier between Holmes and a naked girl.

Brett's skill leads us to interpret the scene aright - he sees what others do not because he has trained himself to focus solely on details material to solving the case in hand. Not even such pulchritude can colour or undermine his thinking.
It is a superb example of Holmes' self-description in 'The Lion's Mane':

"Women have seldom been an attraction to me, for my brain has always governed my heart".

Thus does this splendid Granada team invent a scene barely suggested by Conan Doyle and throw valuable and authentic illumination on the Great Detective through the medium of film.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Of Decile Bands, Levels, Cabbages and Kings.

Sweet move, the decile banding announcement, Mr. Gove. Nice Coalition touch to package it with a Liberal-Democrat pupil premium increase. Politically generous (I mean airily self-confident and strategically agile) to give the Deputy PM & David Laws a day in the sun; to marry a welcome rise in funding with a beneficent vision of clarity, simplicity and objectivity.

Sweet timing too. On a par with the recent (optional but illustrative) packed lunch scare and the ticking off of your own department with regard to jargon (interpret: ‘I am so in control, my reforms are going so well, I even have leisure [and. of course,nota bene, the power] to muse on pupil diets and ‘educate’ my own ministry’). This juicy July bone is tossed out to be picked bare by teachers (see current blog and Twitter debate) this week, ensuring they have something to keep them preoccupied till term’’s end and well beyond.

Sweet move, sweet timing -  but neither surprising, important in itself or welcome.

TOM BENNETT and HEADGURUTEACHER have blogged valuably on the shortcomings of levels and the statistical meaning and implications of decile bands (not in themselves the as-yet-unknown assessment method). Mr. Bennett concludes that ‘Levels are the devil. Bands could be useful.’ His central theme is that decile bands are more ‘honest’ than gradings that have proven to be wide open to subjectivity. He is waiting to see just how they are used. Noting that Mr. Bennett is ‘not wedded to bands’ I was left wondering what this blogger would ideally recommend. should his advice be sought.

Not that I expect it will be. We are too far down the road.

The central problem with levels for a government committed to a compulsory National Common Core Curriculum is not merely their vulnerability to subjectivity and differing standards. It lies rather in the participation of teachers.

The logic is this. Government specifies what knowledge is most important to teach nationwide. Government specifies which parcels of that knowledge must be known ( and seen to be known) by specified ages. For this to operate it requires the simplest, most readily quantifiable, nationally consistent, teacher-free methods of delivery, assessment and reporting. This is easy and entirely possible - the narrower and more prescriptive the common core the simpler this chain appears.

Decile bands happen to be the ideal off-the-peg, objective (of teachers at least) final simplistic link. But, as Mr. Bennett rightly says, it all depends on your uses. On your motivation, I’d add.

In A PREVIOUS POST  I articulated my objection to the Common Core project:

“Sue Cowley is certainly concerned that the transmission of a circumscribed body of knowledge deemed more important than the general pool will become an end in itself, valued only for its provision of neat, but educationally suspect ‘evidence’ for assessment AND that not even this core knowledge will be learned within meaningful, relevant contexts.”

The imposition of a common core is the easiest and quickest option available to politicians set on driving change. Because I cannot believe such an approach has any real contribution to make to the benefit of general education, I can only make sense of what is happening in political terms. I fancy the Opposition is green with envy that it did not press the centralising of curriculum to assume its perfect form - a compulsory common core. I do not fancy, I know, that one of the most astute politicians of this cohort is sitting in the Department of Education blithely running rings round Parliament and country.

No, the levels/banding debate is a blind. Keep ‘em debating anything but the big picture is the strategy and it is working Oh so well.

What really matters is the inexorable assembly of a closed circuit curriculum which puts all the reins in the incumbent government’s hands: what is taught of significance, how it is taught, when it is taught, how assessed and (especially) how evaluated to secure world class reputation and continuity of power. Now there's a responsibility for you! 

Until the demise of this patronising, simplistic, impoverished excuse for a general education, I have to conclude motivation to continue its promulgation is cleverly political and altruistically void.

We need perhaps to recall that Cabbages are quite capable of growing, thank you very much, without the intervention of Kings.   

All my previous Education posts are listed with direct clickable links at the foot of THIS RECENT POST