Audio Review: Sherlock Holmes and the Mysteries of Loveday Brooke by We Happy Few

Debora Crabbe as Loveday Brooke and Robert Pike as Ebenezer Dyer in “Murder at Troyte’s Hill”. Photo courtesy of We Happy Few.

As the holiday season approaches, two Victorian mysteries from We Happy Few might just be what you need! You can spend New Years, Christmas, or Boxing Day (since it’s a British topic) solving mysteries with two Victorian master sleuths: Sherlock Holmes and Loveday Brooke. This production is a new way to spend time with friends, as audio dramas provide evidence packets that allow groups of listeners to pause the mystery, then examine and discuss the evidence.

… This listening / tactile experience with amusing evidence packets is a perfect adventure…

The first is “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventures of the Builder of Norwood,” precisely directed by Maricio Pita in a spirited Robert Pike adaptation of the new Sherlock Holmes classic. The Great Detective (well portrayed for a second adaptation of We Happy Few Holmes by Jon Reynolds) receives a distressed lawyer who has been charged with murder by his supposed benefactor. A former lover of John’s mother, Jonas Oldacre, wrote his will in favor of lawyer John Hector McFarlane, stating that his inheritance will go to McFarlane and this subject will be discussed in more detail in the Oldacre house more late in the evening. After they meet, however, a fire breaks out and Oldacre appears to have been murdered. With McFarlane’s cane left at the scene, the young lawyer is wanted by police as a murder suspect and enlists Sherlock Holmes’ help to prove his innocence. An unusually astute Dr. Watson (Dylan J. Fleming) also has some ideas about the murder.

It’s a thrilling plot backdrop, of course. Yet “The Norwood Builder” is not even considered one of the best Sherlock Holmes stories, as the mathematician and Sherlock Holmes professor S. Brent Morris points out, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself.

Why, then, was this story chosen for We Happy Few’s second Holmes audio release? Kerry McGee, Artistic Director of We Happy Few, explains: “The deciding factor in choosing Norwood Builder was that it lent itself very well to physical cues. The mystery had hard evidence that could be investigated. It’s a big factor for the Capitol Hill-based theater company, which is sending clues about the mystery to buyers of its audio pieces. These include a false Victorian-era journal with the “latest” developments in fingerprints of suspects, replica fingerprint cards, a thumbprint in wax, a hastily written will, a newspaper article on the death of Jonas (read by Watson in the audio playback), plans of the house, and a photo of the walking stock left by Mr. McFarlane, all to make the room a tactile experience for the listener. And, oh, yeah, they send a tea bag. How very English! Similar to books to read from our childhood, whenever chimes are heard in the recording, the listener is supposed to pause the recording and open an envelope with new evidence.

In many ways, the production is very faithful to the original story, but We Happy Few takes a few liberties. In this version, Dr. Watson tells the story to Holmes ‘landlady, Mrs. Hudson (Debora Crabbe), with Holmes’ whereabouts unknown and shrouded in mystery – a storytelling technique not part of the original story. Additionally, Detective Lestrade, the Scotland Yard detective in the Sherlock Holmes stories, is introduced as a female character voiced by Suzanne Martin. This female voice, in addition to adding a new layer to the narrative, also makes it easier for the listener to discern which voice belongs to which character, especially in scenes with multiple voices.

Still, there is a second mystery for fans of audio drama to unravel. Separated from “The Adventure of the Norwood Builder” is “Loveday Brooke in the Murder at Troyte’s Hill” by We Happy Few. Miss Brooke, perfectly played by Debora Crabbe for the second time after last year’s We Happy Few adaptation of “Drawn Daggers”, is a female private investigator, also in Victorian England. In this tale, wonderfully adapted and directed by Kerry McGee from the short story of Catherine Louisa Pirkis, Loveday’s employer, Ebenezer Dyer (actor Robert Pike in great shape), asks her to go to a rather removed to investigate a murder. A dissipated young descendant of the family is suspected of the crime but is not available for questioning as he is said to be suffering from typhoid. This makes the mystery curiously relevant for today, focusing on contagions and pandemics. In order to solve the case, Miss Brooke poses as the assistant to a certain Mr. Craven, an eccentric specialist in comparative philology. While investigating, she suddenly realizes that her own life could be in danger.

Like Sherlock Holmes ‘Adventure of the Builder of Norwood’ for ‘Murder at Troyte’s Hill’, the listener can order clues sent by mail to enhance the experience. These include a notepad with the Lynch Court Detective Company nickname, maps of Troyte’s Hill, a crime scene illustration and a sample of the complex flavored “Lynch Court Tea Mix”. We liked The Lady of London photo shoot fake newspaper with alliterative articles titled “Pretty Puffs Past Prime Maybe? and “Women on wheels wear wonders”. Then there is also a transcript of an interview between Sergeant Jackson (investigator) and the children who encountered the body. This is just mentioned in the audio, but is typed as an additional scene in the play.

Additionally, the listener / reader will come across an intelligently coded message referencing the characters in Shakespeare’s play, “Twelfth Night”. This Shakespeare-themed code device is absent from the original story but is a nice touch, especially since the troupe’s name “We Happy Few” is borrowed from Shakespeare’s “Henry V”.

We Happy Few has now produced more than one episode of Loveday Brooke, Sherlock Holmes and his Edgar Allan Poe series, “A Midnight Dreary”. While all of them are excellent, we especially hope that Loveday Brooke becomes a series regular (perhaps similar to “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries”). There are many versions of the Sherlock Holmes and Edgar Allan Poe stories on film and in radio format, but Loveday Brooke is not so well remembered today. A series would be a very solid contribution to the popularization of a once famous Victorian crime fighter.

If you’re interested in solving cases with Sherlock Holmes and Loveday Brooke, this listening / touching experience with fun evidence packets is the perfect adventure and also makes a great holiday gift for the Victorian mystery fan in your life! More information can be found on the website.

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