Toronto’s Socratic Theatre Collective presents a gender-swapped take on Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes is a character that gets a lot of interpretation, from the BBC’s Sherlock, to the CBS procedural Elementary to the films starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law (Just to name some adaptations from recent history), when a writer needs a hyper-intellectual detective with barely functioning social skills the resident of 22B Baker street is a go-to choice.
The Socratic Theatre Collective have followed suit with their latest production, putting their own spin on the classic detective by genderswapping almost every character from the Holmes canon and sending them to run amok in a metafictional examination of the classic stories.
I’m a big fan of genderswaps; when done correctly they can put a whole new spin on characters and stories. That being said, in the hands of the wrong writer it can simply become the same story only in dresses (or trousers, depending on the original genders). I was a little worried that might be the case with Bitch of the Baskervilles, but S.R. Kriger has created an interesting examination of gender within Holmes that is still a solid (if a little clumsy in the middle) mystery.
Taking its core narrative from the classic Hound of the Baskervilles, Bitch of the Baskervilles stays relatively true to the source text for the first 5 minutes or so and then joyfully goes mad, incorporating elements from a variety of classic Holmes mysteries that at first came off as just fan service but actually tie together quite well, becoming one grand conundrum that only the Great Detective could sort through.
One slightly duff note mystery wise was the incorporation of a modified version of A Scandal in Bohemia which didn’t work into the rest of the plot but was more an excuse to incorporate the iconic character of Adler for a scene and explore their relationship with Sherlock within the gender bent universe. It’s a great scene that I really enjoyed but when every other mystery tied into the climax and solution to the mystery it was a bit offputting.
Performance wise, Bitch of the Baskervilles is fantastic. Amanda O’Halloran is one of the most infuriatingly smug Sherlocks I’ve ever seen and Liz Bragg’s Jane Watson holds the story together while equally giving the audience a voice for all the insanity going on around her. Kudos have to go to Laura Vincent as well for her performance as Jackie Stapleton whose physicality and mannerisms were just a joy to watch as she sleazed her way through the show.
I also want to give recognition to Victoria Banjavcic whose costumes gave a lushness to the performance that the bare bones set couldn’t achieve; I often say that all you need for good theatre are a couple boxes and a stick, but good costuming always gives that much more to a production and I enjoyed the work put into giving every character a unique and fun look.
Whether you’re looking for a solid murder mystery, a metafictional exploration of Holmes or just a fun frothy romp, Bitch of the Baskervilles is a great choice for a night of theatre and well worth the $25 price tag (even moreso if you’re a student or senior and only have to pay $15).