Why Sherlock is ripe for potting…

Arthur Conan Doyle wrote four novels and 56 short stories about the great detective Sherlock Holmes. In Potted Sherlock, Dan and Jeff (a.k.a. Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner) race through all 60 cases in 70 minutes. Here, they discuss with our guest editor Terri Paddock why Holmes was crying out for the irreverent but always family-friendly Potted treatment.

PottedSherlock3Dan: Arthur Conan Doyle was an amazing writer, but, let’s be honest, sometimes he was shoddy.

Jeff: It’s because the stories were serialized, over so many years. Conan Doyle tried to kill Sherlock off more than once. There are some stories that you read and think, someone was tapping their watch saying, ‘Mr Conan Doyle, the deadline’s at 10 and it’s 8.30, are you nearly finished?’ ‘Yes, yes, nearly finished’… ‘Right, better start this one.’ There’s one where he actually gets Dr Watson’s name wrong! The character’s name is John Watson and he keeps calling him George.

Dan: Then there’s Watson’s wife, or I should say Watson’s wives. In The Sign of the Four, he gets an initial wife, he meets her and she’s introduced and they get married. And then slowly she sort of dies. He doesn’t mourn. Later they start talking about the wife again. It’s crazy. So, I started thinking, if you put all of these stories together, there’s an amazing tongue-in-cheek show here, just by looking at the throughline and lightly digging at it.

Jeff: The short stories were never designed to be read together. I read all of them in three weeks. About two-thirds of the way through, they all become a little samey.

Dan: Because he’s recapping. You also get a lot of false climaxes because he had to end every instalment with some excitement to get readers to come back for the next one.

Jeff: We came up with some great material reading them all that fast.

Dan: It’s a great period of history too. We’re both historical buffs and we love the Victorian age, the golden age of Britain, the Empire. The arrogance that people had then is shocking.

Jeff: Of course, it was a completely different age and mindset. But there’s a lot that would be seen today as very obviously racist. And then there’s the portrayal of women. Almost every woman in the series – Irene Adler excepted, and she’s a lady of the night – has either been killed or she faints. There’s a line about a Victorian lady’s easily shocked heart.

Dan: Some of their methods are incredible too. In The Study of Scarlet, to test whether or not a pill is poison, Holmes takes a dog – not a stray dog, a neighbour’s dog – and forcefeeds it the pill. Can you imagine saying to your neighbor, ‘we killed your dog’? What are they going to say? ‘Oh well, easy come, easy go’? Conan Doyle’s scientific understanding is pretty dodgy. We do a lot around The Speckled Band in the show. Without giving too much away, the speckled band is a poisonous snake that’s travelling in and out of a room by the command of a whistle. What a great idea. But even I, as a non-scientific person, know that snakes are deaf. There is no way that this could have ever happened. Just to take it further, Conan Doyle must have thought, ‘what snake do I want? We’ll say an Indian swamp adder.’ And there’s no such thing.

Jeff: Maybe he decided on a fictional snake because that’s the only one with ears?

Dan: Exactly. Holmes’ way of defeating the snake is to hit it with a big stick. And then it goes and bites the villain. That’s wonderful. Holmes and Watson are just so eccentric. That’s why we’re all so drawn to the stories.

Jeff: They’ve been portrayed so much. With The Hound of the Baskervilles alone, there are over 30 radio, TV and stage adaptations. It helps that Sherlock Holmes is particularly popular at the moment, with the BBC series and the Hollywood films, and we include a few nods to Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. But we genuinely have an interest in the subject from the literature perspective and our show is coming at it from that side.

Dan: And, like with Harry Potter, it’s another great British character.

Jeff: Really, we just do shows so we get to be things we want to be: we’ve done wizards (with Potted Potter), pirates (Potted Pirates), and princesses (Potted Panto) and now we get to play detective. That’s cool.


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