The Traverse, instead of hosting a play in their main space, has decided to play host to the viva of Jennifer McGeary, before she receives her PhD in philosophy from the University of Edinburgh.
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The paper is entitled “Why We Believe in the Afterlife” and frames the question using the life and times of novelist and famous spiritualist Arthur Conan Doyle. However, far from a two-hour lecture, McGeary has brought in a pair of actors to introduce dramatic scenes with Conan-Doyle, Harry Houdini and of course Holmes and Watson.
The play is a brilliant study in meta-theatre. The lecture format is intelligent, elementary and incredibly versatile, providing the play with diverse levels.
On the top layer, there is the relationship between the fantastic Jennifer McGeary – played ably by Gabriel Quigley – and her actors Javier Marzan and John Nicholson, playing themselves.
However, it is the re-enactments that add depth. The character of Conan Doyle provides the show’s heart; his increasing age and his relationship with McGeary are touching.
On the final level are the stories of Holmes, which are pulled off with particular flair and with tongues firmly in cheeks. In unskilled hands this complicated mesh would have been difficult to deduce, but the cast are so liquid and masterful with the complicated material that even Dr Watson could follow the plot.
It is the show’s honesty that makes it brilliant. The actors regularly break character to deal with personal disputes, to argue over physics, philosophy and which characters they should be playing in the re-enactments. This is paired with brilliant sight gags and constant reassurance that everything is going as planed, despite the fires and repeated unintentional blackouts. These out of control moments add to the overall ramshackle feel.
There are also some incredible pieces of stagecraft, including table turning and the magic tricks of Harry Houdini. Having developed the most logical character of them all, Conan Doyle’s devotion to the other-worldly is a fascinating paradox. This premise is enough to build a story filled with contradictions and comedy, leaving you with more than a little appreciation for Mr Conan- Doyle.
Run ends December 22.