Review By Regan Baker
With the Sydney Comedy Festival rolling into its third week and the line-up of artists aging like a fine wine (better with time), how could this writer from Brisbane turn down an offer to review a show or two while on a theatre holiday (I literally came all this way just to see Hamilton!) I eagerly booked myself in for back-to-back shows starting with ‘The Game is Afoot: An Improvised Sherlock Holmes Mystery’ at the vibrant and unique Factory Theatre.
We rolled up to Marrickville about an hour before showtime and popped around the corner to Poor Tom’s Gin Hall for a cheeky pre-show drink, which I cannot recommend highly enough as it was a great vibe to start the evening! Having never ventured far outside of Sydney’s CBD before, Marrickville was definitely giving me stabby-stabby vibes at first, but in a classic twist of “Don’t judge a book by its’ cover” I later discovered that the suburb had actually been voted the 10th most liveable city in the world in 2020 by Timeout Magazine (sorry Marrickvillians, I was wrong about your beautiful suburb)!
The Factory Theatre is a gorgeously unique performing arts venue and nothing like I had ever really seen before – you simply don’t get creative ‘hub’ venues like this back in Brisbane! After grabbing a light snack and a drink from one of the many vendors inside the theatre grounds we slowly made our way into the Fusebox Theatre and took our seats.
On entry we were handed a pen and piece of paper with “The mystery of the _____” written upon it, so that we could make suggestions as to the direction of the evening’s performance. Inspired by one of my colleagues I quickly added “The Italian who was forced to eat pineapple on pizza” to the end of the sentence and tossed the paper into the hat.
As the music faded and the chattering of the audience slowly subsided Dr. Watson (Jon Williams) took centre stage and introduced the show, while also reinforcing that everything will be completely improvised and (much to the opinion of some reviewers, apparently) not scripted in any way. While there may have been elements of the show that were pre-coordinated, like who would go on stage with who, and when ‘blackouts’ would occur between scenes, in no way did this detract from the comedy at hand or the visage of improvisation. In my opinion - that’s just being organised, not scripted.
To kick off the night Dr. Watson started rustling around in the hat of audience suggestions, introducing and poking fun at multiple ideas as being previous mysteries that he had worked on with Sherlock Holmes (who was played by Patrick Magee). Much to my delight, he read mine out to roaring laughter from the audience before eventually settling on a single idea which would form the remainder of the night’s mystery.
The originality of ‘The Game is Afoot’ was something I truly enjoyed as I haven’t much experience with improvised theatre. And to the defence of the six-strong cast, which comprised of Jon Williams, Will Erimya, Kate Coates, Edan Lacey, Patrick Magee and Lisa Ricketts, it was certainly evident that all of the dialogue was indeed, made up.
Magee did a wonderful job as Sherlock in driving the story forward and on top of being a fantastic improviser, also shone as a highly talented actor. The cast meshed well on stage and consistently referenced the ideas and themes introduced earlier and ensured the chosen idea of the mystery was maintained. Edan Lacy as Inspector Lestrade portrayed a humorously stiff and somewhat socially awkward representation of Detective Inspector Lestrade, but in the theme of improvisation his individuality in the role added nicely to the hilarity of the evening.
My only note of improvement for the cast is that there was a lot of talking over each other’s ideas, and not waiting to hear where a fellow character’s train of thought was heading. This created a few disjointed moments within the scene where both performers lost direction, but this was only for a moment or so before someone started a new train of thought.
Overall however, the concept was insane, the improv hilarious and all round the cast delivered a highly engaging and witty sixty-minutes of improvised comedy.