And other shows to come
I don’t want to keep Sherlock Holmes waiting but it may be the only solution.
Completing a project like this Christmas Murder Mystery; the writing, shooting, editing, web-creation, promotion (as limited as it is), provides a sense of satisfaction. A feeling of, ‘I’ve done it!’
I ask myself if I could start again, knowing what I now know; how long it takes, the compromises, the costs.
And the answer is a resounding ‘NO’.
So it’s a strange contradiction that, at the same time, I’m thinking of the shows I want to do next. They too will throw up huge challenges and, at the end of it, will they have been worth it?
And the answer is a resounding, ‘YES’.
What is that about?
I feel, as I grow older, the most important thing is simply to remain creative. It doesn’t really matter what that is, be it music or design or art or…whatever. But creativity matters above all else.
Yes, it would be nice to make some money (breaking even is a long way off) but it’s really important to look forward to the next project and, I believe, to learn as one goes, and to improve.
You’d never guess from watching the films, but I’ve always been something of a perfectionist. Nothing I do is ever good enough. And I learned, relatively recently, that perfectionism holds you back. If you constantly strive for better, you’re always throwing away your achievements.
That means you must embrace compromise. I have a post about where, I believe, I have had to compromise on this occasion and where there is room for improvement.
Quite a bit of room, in fact.
I have what can only be described as a ‘habit’ of collecting domain names.
I can’t help it. I think of some business venture and search for a domain name that fits. If I find one, I have to snap it up before someone else does. In no time at all, I’m being asked to renew as the two years are up.
In fact, I was EXTREMELY surprised to get the domain name, ChristmasMurder.com. I thought it would have sold years ago. But I’m glad to have it. Likewise, I like the idea of creating a Sherlock Holmes Mystery.
Over many years, my Sherlock Holmes Mystery was performed hundreds of times. I knew the story had to be classical inasmuch as it wouldn’t date. And I wanted it to cross from fiction to reality and back again (Conan Doyle hated the fact people believed Holmes was real).
I’ve owned SherlockMurderMystery.com for some years. Never done anything with it. But I thought it a tad too long so, this summer, I purchased SherlockMystery.com (incidentally, I also own ShallowBottom.com – as if anyone else is ever going to want that!)
Simply owning these domain names, I hope, will inspire me to get on with Sherlock Holmes. I have plans for it to be more than just a murder mystery. I’d like it to be a history of his life (not that he really had one), from his birth in Portsmouth to his death in Switzerland, and then his retirement in Devon.
I am hoping (but not promising) to release this in 2022.
The Birth of Accidental Productions
We started Accidental Productions way back in 1990 (I know!). I had recently left the Royal Shakespeare Company and my luck was down (I’d been understudying both Kenneth Branagh and Gerard Horan in Look Back in Anger in the West End, directed by Judi Dench – a job that changed my life inasmuch as I swore I would NEVER, EVER understudy again).
My agent at that time called to say there were a couple of New Yorkers in town who wanted to see me! They were putting on a murder mystery in a pub at Paternoster Square (next to St. Paul’s cathedral). I laughed it off (I was an RSC actor, after all). She told me the pay was about the same for one night as theatre paid in a week.
I met them in Liverpool Street.
Their plan was to take over London, then Europe with the sort of show they’d been doing in New York. they couldn’t believe that nobody was doing murder mystery events over here. They said they were playing six nights a week, with two casts. I would be the detective in the second cast. It was all improvised so they invited me to see the ‘show’ the following night and take over the night after that.
I tried to tell them that tourists don’t hang around in the east after dark. They all head back to Mayfair but… what did I know.
I arrived at the pub. It was pretty tiny. I was greeted by one of those ‘character actors’ who improvises with lines like, ‘Hello my love, are you here for a good time?’ I watched (in some horror) as the show unfolded. Afterwards, my nails almost completely gorged, I mentioned to a waiter that I’d see him on the morrow as I will be the detective!
He told me the shows had been pulled. The Americans had left (to this day I don’t know if the actors were ever paid). So that was that. The tourists hadn’t turned up after all.
But I started to wonder if I could perhaps write a murder mystery myself. It would be ‘something I could do between jobs’. It had to be better than stacking shelves. I didn’t think it would take up too much time.
throughout the 1990’s, we didn’t stop working. I had little time for anything other than Accidental Productions.
The History of Sherlock Holmes
Rather, the history of my Sherlock Holmes (not Sir Arthur Conan Dolye’s – although they are one and the same).
We ‘got away’ with our first show. 30 November 1990 in Eastbourne for Hill Samuel, the financiers. I had employed friends from the RSC and from RADA (the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where I’d trained – though not for this). None of us had done too much improvisation but we followed the standard practice of putting actors at the tables with the guests on a rotating basis.
We soon dropped the standard practice. The punters were supposed to ask our characters questions but, instead, the main questions were: ‘What’s it like to be an actor, then?’ and ‘What have you done on the telly?’
Also, the actresses complained they were being groped. These people were bankers, don’t forget, and it was the tail end of the 1980’s so they could do what they wanted.
The venue asked us back for Boxing Day. They had a hotel full of elderly guests over the Christmas period. It was disastrous…
They didn’t want us there and we discovered what it was to be violently heckled. I have two recollections; sending on my RSC colleague, dressed as Father Christmas, by saying, ‘You try to make them laugh. I can’t do it’, and my best man and old RADA mate cutting to the chase an hour or so before we were due to finish with the words, ‘Just shoot me. Shoot me.’It was in May 1991 that we finally perfected our trade and by then, although we would still improvise, we had scripts to fall back on.
Having written three shows, I was asked by The Cliveden Club if we could do a murder mystery for them. I thought that, for a classy venue with a dubious reputation, I should write a Sherlock Holmes Mystery.
I worked on my script over the summer. I was writing in Edinburgh whilst doing a couple of show at the Festival. One day, I was in a pub called The Conan Doyle (I thought it would be inspirational) when the barman locked the doors. A man with a gun had been seen in a local pub and there was a fear he could be coming this way.
I completed the script. Others weren’t sure if we could carry it off but my idea had been we use just four actors to play lots of characters, and a violinist to entertain during the down times.
Our first show was at Cliveden and we had the great idea of hiding two actors in with the guests, pretending they were members of the club. All went well until a real member of the club, presumably because he didn’t recognise them, asked how long they had been members.
‘Oh,’ they said. ‘About ten years now, I think.’
‘That’s odd,’ he replied. ‘The club only started three years ago.’
We learned the art of excusing ourselves and moving away.
Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Unsolved Mystery served us well for twenty years or so. There was a short time we had a wobble over it. Conan Doyle died in 1930 and the copyright lasted for 50 years, so we couldn’t really have used the names Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson before 1980. That was OK.
But then, in 1995, the rule was extended from 50 years to 70. The year 2000! Luckily, we weren’t actually using any of Sir Arthur’s writings, only his character names. Of course, the popularity of Sherlock Holmes remains to this day (and I don’t think that is solely down to us). Hollywood, not to mention Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, had a lot to do with that.
Even so, Sherlock Holmes remained our most popular show well into the 21st century. Even now, we are sometimes asked if we can do… The Final Adventure. But I think it’s had its day.
Aside, that is, from bringing it back as a filmed mystery. A George Butler Mystery. After all, Conan Doyle brought Sherlock back from the dead, so why can’t I.
The Private Investigator
I don’t want to say too much about my other venture (several domain names have passed their renewal dates on this one) for fear the idea will be stolen.
But I think it will be great fun to do and, I hope, to play.
I am also excited by the fact it has the potential, despite it being a filmed mystery, to be tailored to it’s audience. Almost a bespoke mystery suitable for birthdays, anniversaries or any special occasion.
However, it is quite a big project. Expensive to produce (by the standards of my two murder mysteries to date) and will take in all number of locations.
It’s the project I really want to work towards. I want it to be creative and, yes, perfect (I know it won’t be but there’s nothing wrong with a bit of striving).
I’d like to think I can release it next year as well but…well, let’s just see how the Christmas Murder does first.
And the future?
I heard an interesting article on the radio recently.
It was about a woman who had a theory about giving up on your dreams. On the face of it, that sounds like a dreadful idea (Catch your dreams before they slip away) but her reasoning was sound.
The idea being the sooner you accept you’ll never play for England or write that best-selling novel, the sooner you can stop the anguish of those quests and get on with living, and enjoying, the life you have got.
I’m not sure I agree with her fully (you’re never too old to write that book. Playing for England is a different matter altogether – especially if you’re not English. Be it 25 or 30 or even 35, many of us have definitely passed the age limit for that ambition).
But I could continue to write and film well into my old age (don’t be alarmed, I’m not forcing you to play). So, obeying the adage that if you can’t beat them…I may extend my murder mystery career by writing the sorts of games many seem to enjoy – semi-scripted participation games).
I also have ideas for non-mystery projects (again, budgets are limited). Again, I have several domain names (and have done for a few years) for a mini-series I wrote a couple of years back. Each episode is a specific length (6 minutes and 42 seconds, I think). It can never make money for the TV companies but it is something I really want to do.
Because it is creative. Expensive, but creative.
And the only way I will ever be able to do it is if YOU (yes, you have a part in this) buy this current mystery and then get everyone you know to do the same (ah! So I am forcing you).
So although I couldn’t possibly start again on The Nighty before Christmas, I can definitely find the energy to create new things.
And what, at the end of the day, could possibly be better than that.