Sherlock Holmes Meets Steampunk in ‘Sherlock’s Secret Life’

Sherlock's Secret Life
"Sherlock's Secret Life" at Southampton Cultural Center, Photo: Dane Dupuis

Boots on the Ground Theater, the troupe run by longtime East End radio personality Bonnie Grice, returns for a new production on March 6 at Southampton Cultural Center. The Long Island premiere of Ed Lange’s Sherlock’s Secret Life is an intriguing new take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved detective Sherlock Holmes, with a tantalizing mystery and steampunk-infused aesthetic. Grice discusses the production and the ongoing evolution of Boots on the Ground Theater.

Sherlock's Secret Life
“Sherlock’s Secret Life” at Southampton Cultural Center, Photo: Dane Dupuis

Give us an overview of Sherlock’s Secret Life.
My Sherlock theater sojourn began two years ago. I started my theater company in 2016 to recreate and retell stories from history with a particular emphasis on the 19th century, a personal passion. There’s so much to learn from the Victorians—the ingenuity, the inventions, the birth of the women’s and civil rights movements… and the birth of the detective. The first detective story was actually written by an American, Edgar Allan Poe, who’s been called the “undisputed master of the detective story” with his character, Dupin, in the 1840s. Charles Dickens, who was obsessed with the detective, had read Poe and was inspired to write his own detective, Inspector Bucket in Bleak House, paving the way for Conan Doyle and Holmes later in the century. Two years ago I decided to bring Holmes to the East End stage. As far as I knew, he’d never been presented onstage here before. So I started shopping the idea around to friends and potential directors and researching/reading more than a dozen “Holmesian” scripts. I now have a library of Sherlock for the stage! Most of the standard stories are a bit old and dusty and very stilted. I wanted something that could reflect a more modern, edgy Holmes, a la Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch. I narrowed it down to five potential scripts and our director, Josephine Wallace and I, chose this one. I invited Josephine to work with me again as director since we’d had such a good experience together on Red Badge of Courage in 2018. We both agreed that Sherlock’s Secret Life had the perfect combination of mystery, crime, love, murder and comedy—an important element—plus it’s never been done before on Long Island.

We’re all super excited about this show! It’s a rocking cast of East End stars familiar to SCC audiences. It’s going to be a real romp guaranteed to keep even the most rabid Sherlock fans on the edge of their seats. Be prepared for a Sherlock shock at the end….

Talk about the steampunk aesthetic in the costumes and sets.
I have a passion for the Victorian/Edwardian era, including the costumes and the interiors of the time. I’ve become an obsessed collector of costumes, fabric and furniture from the 19th century. Josephine’s set design provides the perfect framework for Holmes’ London. The costumes are a mix of historical with a bit of added steampunk for fun, to match the feel of the show and its story.

Tell us about Boots on the Ground Theater.
Boots on the Ground Theater strives to provide history and entertainment, with a nod to our area students. We always provide an opportunity for a student actor to be featured in a main role alongside our veteran actors. We featured Southampton Middle Schooler Emma Suhr as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker in 2018. Thomas Schiavoni was our Henry in Red Badge and he returns for this production as the young Watson. Plus, we always provide at least one free show for students. This time it’s a free matinee for high school students Saturday, March 14 at 2 p.m., followed by a Q&A with Detective Sgt. Lisa Costa from the Southampton Town Police Department. She’ll compare detectives then and now.

Why is Sherlock Holmes such an enduring character?
Sherlock Holmes remains fascinating to new generations for a variety of reasons. The primary one—crime. Solving crime. Identifying criminals. Exploring their motives. the evidence. A tradition that readers and viewers have enjoyed for centuries. It must be part of our DNA. Conan Doyle created characters that had little in the way of forensics or technology, but he set a standard for our modern day detectives. Holmes and Watson just went with their instincts and gathered together clues using mostly gray matter—with an occasional spy glass. The brilliance of this dynamic duo still shines over a century later. Everything old is new again!

Sherlock's Secret Life
“Sherlock’s Secret Life” at Southampton Cultural Center, Photo: Dane Dupuis

Sherlock’s Secret Life runs from March 6–22 at Southampton Cultural Center. Visit scc-arts.org for tickets and more information.

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