As we celebrate Sherlock Holmes Day, it’s only fitting to highlight some of the top stage adaptations that have brought the iconic detective to life over the years. From William Gillette’s classic portrayal of the deerstalker hat-wearing sleuth to modern interpretations that reimagine the character in new ways, the stage has proven to be a perfect venue for showcasing the brilliance of Sherlock Holmes.
Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes is perhaps the most iconic stage adaptation, having written, directed, and starred in his own play, which ran for seven different productions on Broadway from 1899 to 1930. Gillette’s portrayal of the character, complete with the deerstalker hat and Inverness cape, set the standard for how many people still imagine the detective today. John Neville, Patrick Horgan, and Robert Stephens all followed in Gillette’s footsteps in later revivals of the play, each bringing their unique take on the character to the stage.
Jeremy Paul’s The Secret of Sherlock Holmes, staged in London’s West End in 1988, stands out as one of the more faithful adaptations of the stories. Featuring Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke reprising their television roles as Holmes and Watson, the play offers a faithful recreation of the atmosphere and characters of the original stories.
In addition to these faithful adaptations, there have been plenty of creative reimaginings of Sherlock Holmes on the stage. Sherlock & Watson: Behind Closed Doors, a short play by Darren Stewart-Jones, imagines a romantic relationship between the detective and his assistant. Meanwhile, Peepolykus Theatre Company’s adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles involves only three actors, and presents a comedic take on the classic story.
Of course, Sherlock Holmes is just one of many great detectives to have graced the stage. Murder mystery plays have long been a staple of the theatre, offering audiences the chance to unravel complex puzzles alongside the characters on stage. Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is perhaps the most famous of these, having run continuously in London’s West End since 1952.
Other notable murder mystery plays include Patrick Hamilton’s Rope, which inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s film of the same name, and Dial M for Murder, which was also adapted into a popular film by Hitchcock. More recent examples include the Tony Award-winning play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which combines elements of mystery and coming-of-age drama.
Whether it’s Sherlock Holmes or one of the many other great detectives to have graced the stage, murder mystery plays continue to captivate audiences with their intricate plots and compelling characters. As we celebrate Sherlock Holmes Day, let’s take a moment to appreciate the many ways in which this iconic detective has been brought to life on stage over the years.