Sherlock Meets the Phantom (1975)

     by Tim Kelly

This little British play squeaked by me, which isn't surprising - it isn't very well known. Mostly, probably, because it's very short and also not overly good. But it's interesting in that it's the very first crossover between the Phantom story and the Sherlock Holmes ones; I had thought that the rash of them in the early nineties, starting with the Meyer novel, was the beginning of the phenomenon, but this is two decades earlier!

 

I have no idea when this play is set; I suspect that Kelly doesn't really, either, and didn't consider it especially important in writing it (so probably present-day, then). The action is set at the Virginia City Opera House, but that's all the detail we'll get, so it's anyone's guess whether this is the Virginia City in Montana, Nevada, or Virginia (though the one in Nevada is thought to be haunted, so that might be the best candidate for a haunting story).

 

The basic premise of the Phantom story is mostly intact: there is a Phantom rumored to be haunting the Opera House and several of the cast and crew members have become injured and are very spooked. But that's the only parallel of any kind; from there, the plot takes off on its own and does a few bizarre loop-de-loops before ending without the slightest bit of allusion to the original story. The character relationships are not present; in fact, that characters themselves aren't present, as there is no Christine, no Raoul, and, really, no Erik to speak of, either, since the Phantom here is running around for a completely unrelated nutbar reason. Of course, no characters means no character growth or potential, which means no allegories or metaphors for society, which means no redemption or statement on the human condition. Again, Kelly's just trying to get a laugh out of people with this one.

 

So here's your laugh: the actual plot. After the spooked chorus gives the director (named Michael, incidentally, though I doubt that the 1983 Markowitz/Schell film got the name from here) a hard time while he's trying to rehearse them, Sherlock Holmes magically appears (no, really - he pops up from behind the sofa) with his housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson (Watson is out sick), and proceeds to embark on a particularly inept journey of detecting which solves nothing for a long time, until it is revealed that there are actually two Phantoms (again, a device we will later see pretty often, most notably in the 1979 Savage/Joboulian film and the 1988 Plone/Sussman movie)), one a young woman who is attempting to get revenge for her brother, the disgruntled composer Ab Normal, who was recently removed from the company, and the other one of the members of the company who has been eating chemically enhanced peanuts that turn him into a rampaging ape. Then Holmes accidentally eats some of the peanuts and becomes an ape, too, and everyone goes home.

 

No, really. That is the plot.

 

The entire show is very simplistic in its humor, tending toward slapstick, visual gags, and familiar bits to try to make the audience laugh at the sheer silliness of it all. So there's nothing particularly special going on here, other than the fact that Kelly likes to make fun of people. He's poking fun at Doyle's stories about Holmes, who he treats with a certain fondness most of the time, and at the Phantom story, one of the staples of the horror genre; likewise, he's also making more than a little fun of the vaudeville style that he's employing, and his mockery of "high art" and the exclusionist way that it tends to market itself is actually pretty parallel to some of the things Leroux himself was poking fun at.

 

It's still pretty terrible, though. The humor is really, really iffy, and the only reason it isn't snore- and hate-inducing is the fact that its cheerful insistence on the slapstick style and the obvious evidence that Kelly is having a good time with it lend it a certain daffy charm.

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