The Game is On: An Afternoon with Mark Gatiss and friends at the Criterion Theatre.

It started with some cryptic tweets on the part of Ian Hallard (partner to Mark Gatiss) indicating that Sherlock fans might have something fun to look forward to in November. Then an event appeared on Ticketmaster – An Afternoon with Mark Gatiss and Friends at the Criterion Theatre in aid of the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard. My friends and I rushed to book even though the “friends” hadn’t been announced yet – who wouldn’t want to spend an afternoon with the delightful Mark Gatiss – and in aid of such a good cause too! The next day the guest list was announced to the utter delight of Sherlock fans everywhere. Joining Mark would be Steven Moffat, Sue Vertue, Louise Brealey (Molly Hooper), Andrew Scott (Moriarty), Una Stubbs (Mrs Hudson), Rupert Graves (Inspector Lestrade) and Martin Freeman (John Watson). The event unsurprisingly sold out in seconds.

So we gathered excitedly in the Criterion Theatre  for the first real Sherlock event in the UK. The event was introduced by the lovely (and frankly rather dashing) Ian Hallard who let us know a little bit more about the charity (run mostly by volunteers with only one member of staff!) that the event would be assisting. He also had the sad task of informing us that Una couldn’t make it due to filming commitments (Andrew had also previously had to withdraw for the same reason). Mark Gatiss (looking very handsome in black glasses) was then introduced and bought on several of his friends to delight the audience.

It was a truly lovely, genuinely hilarious afternoon chaired with immense warmth and wicked humour by Mark. It may sound very cheesy to say but the sheer love everyone (cast, creatives and audience alike) in that room had for Sherlock was so clear it was just really wonderful to see. No photos I’m afraid (Ian asked us all terribly nicely not to take any but there was an official photographer there so hopefully photos will be available for all to see soon) and no transcript as hopefully the audio is being released for you all to enjoy. But below are a few of the highlights from the talk for you to enjoy while you’re waiting for the audio to be released. I should sheepishly note that I ended up having a few questions asked by Mark (and having the entertainment value of hearing him mispronounce my surname each time!)

Steven and Sue were up first and they were asked whether they were surprised at the level of interest there was in Sherlock worldwide. They all agreed it had been a huge surprise and that they’d never anticipated it being as big as it is. Mark mentioned how people were coming to see him in 55 Days from all over the world and how incredibly touched he was by that.

Sue was asked whether she gets lots of actors asking her whether they can be in Sherlock and whether she felt compelled now that Sherlock was a big series to cast “names”. She laughed and said she gets it from both sides as people either desperately want to be in Sherlock (mostly as a villain) or want her to tell her husband how much they want to be in Doctor Who! She said she loved the casting process and that it’s much more exciting to find a star than to cast a star. There was a discussion of how wonderful Andrew Scott is as Moriarty and how another casting director had told them “I wanted to be the one to discover Andrew Scott!”. 

A fan in the US had sent in a question mentioning how painful it was to wait so long after the initial broadcast for PBS to air the show in the States and whether there was anything American fans could do to lessen the wait. Sue mentioned that they were all very aware of the issue and were doing what they could to work on that (she mentioned that PBS’ set up is a little old fashioned in terms of almost literally having to send tapes to various outlets across the US – Sue joked that she would go and hand deliver the tapes in future instead!)

There was a question about how there is a perception that Mark is responsible for putting in the perceived homeo-erotic subtext between Sherlock and John in the series and that Steven tries to remove it and how they felt about that perception. Steven pointed out that actually it was the other way around. He said that to the extent that the subtext was there at all it came from the Pilot episode. The scene in the restaurant (Sherlock and John in Angelos’) was too short and so scrabbling around for something to extend it he wrote the accidental date scene and Mark read it and pointed out “This is all anyone will ever talk about.” Mark discussed how following in the footsteps of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes which also had strong undertones it seemed the obvious assumption that people in a modern context would make about two bachelors living together – that they were in a relationship. He stressed strongly that they weren’t (in the joking references to Sherlock and John possibly being a couple) in any way taking the mickey out of the concept of being gay or being pejorative. Steven also pointed out that Sherlock and John live in a very good natured world and everyone makes the fond assumption that they’re together.

Other questions focused on whether they had any favourite moments from the Rathbone adaptation that they’d like to reference in Sherlock, who they’d least like to be stuck in a lift with, how long Sherlock can continue (“for as long as everyone involved keeps wanting to make it”) and how Steven came up with Madame Vashtra and Jenny in Who (including an entertainingly filthy punchline about very long tongues…).

The lovely Louise Brealey was up next wearing not one but 2 mini skirts (top one was a bit itchy apparently!) showcasing her lower toned vocal range (she’s been doing some voice work for her new play The Trojan Women). Louise discussed the present Molly got for Sherlock (the Borat mankini and Benedict’s despair when she mentioned it at Cheltenham lest he have to suffer endless manips of his head on Borat’s body), the difficulties of working at Methyr Tydfil morgue (buckets of brains, knife sharpener, gristly bits in the sink and the viewing room all contributing to a slightly tricky working environment!) and how she feels about being a role model to so many young women (she mentioned her articles in The Observer and the Evening Standard and about how she’s become “the go to woman for pubic hair!”).

Rupert Graves followed and there was genuine excitement to see him as it was his first time at anything Sherlock related. Sporting ultra short silver hair and what Mark Gatiss termed a “Bovver boy” look Rupert was incredibly sweet and looked slightly bewildered every time someone asked him a question. He said sadly he wouldn’t be doing any theatre any time soon because of his 5 children but hoped to when they were older. He was asked about his time in the circus leading to my favourite anecdote of the afternoon (rather pleased as this was my question). He said he’d left school without any qualifications and a circus had come to town and needed a clown. So they advertised at the local job centre. So Rupert got the job as an apprentice clown learning various routines and a bit of juggling. I just love the idea of getting the job of a clown via a youth training scheme at the job centre! 

He was then asked (to the great amusement of the audience who were all way ahead of the question) whether he was aware of Mystrade – the popular fan fiction romantic pairing of Mycroft and Lestrade. Rupert found this hilarious and said it was absolutely true and agreed that it was so obvious when you thought about it!

Rupert also discussed Lestrade and how he feels he’s a man who gets trapped by procedure and red tape and so greatly admires Sherlock and his ability to be a bit free and maverick with his investigations. 

Then John Watson himself Martin Freeman took to the stage (looking incredibly natty as ever in paisley scarf) to a cacaphony of applause (everyone was met with huge applause as they walked out but the roof practically came off the place when Martin appeared – as Mark said rather dryly “I think they like you.”) Martin was asked how aware he was about Doctor Watson before taking the role (he confessed he didn’t even know the character’s name was John) and whether he’d done any research for the role. He said he’d spoken to an army doctor who had been in Afghanistan about the realities of war out there. 

Martin was also asked about The Hobbit and whether he’d seen it and was ready for the insanity of it coming out. He said he’d seen bits of it, that it looked wonderful and that he was as prepared as he could be for something that could change his life and acknowledged it could be difficult as he works very hard to keep his private life private and rarely discusses it. However he wasn’t sure how big it would get (as he pointed out people that are keen on him are already keen – would we all be more keen come December?).

Moving into the second half the audience had the opportunity to ask questions. There was a question about what each character would wish if they had the chance. Mycroft’s would be for Sherlock to work for him, Lestrade for Sherlock’s brain, Molly for a single kiss with Sherlock “with tongues” (this lead to a hilarious comment about Louise milking the crowd causing naughty Martin to ask “You want to milk Sherlock with your tongue?”) and Martin felt that John’s wish would be for Sherlock to be a bit more human and understanding about people’s need to date. And they all wished that Sherlock could film abroad!

There was a lot of discussion about the lovely Christmas party scene in A Scandal in Belgravia. Louise mentioned how excited she’d been about it because she got to go into Baker Street. Rupert discussed how there wasn’t much written for his character to do in that scene so he’d been improvising away and about his reaction to Molly in her beautiful dress & sparkly earrings.

Martin showed himself to be very clued up on fan activities when there was a question about red pants (thank you lovely people of twitter for explaining that one to me) and he confirmed he knew exactly what all that was about. 

There was a discussion about how the panel had between them managed to appear in projects featuring truly iconic British characters (Hitchhikers, Who, Sherlock) and whether they wanted to take on any more. Little enthusiasm was shown for Robin Hood but Rupert’s boyish delight at the prospect of being King Arthur had to be seen to be believed! 

There was an entertaining question about Benedict’s shirts on Sherlock (Louise who knows her fannish stuff pointed out how much everyone loves the purple one!) The shirts were apparently fitted for him at the beginning of series 1 but in between series 1 and 2 he bulked up considerably for Frankenstein. Benedict was meant to go on a crash diet regime to lose the bulk but didn’t (hence as Sue pointed out him looking so good in the scene at Buckingham Palace) and as a result the buttons on the shirts were really straining. Also towards the end of the shoot he was trying to put on weight for Parade’s End so Mark joked that every time he looked around Benedict was eating pudding and Sue mentioned a scene where Benedict asked her to look after his cake while he was filming! 

There was  a lot of good natured joshing of the absent Benedict from the slightly bizarre question sent in as to whether Benedict looks like the pale man from Pan’s Labyrinth (to the utter hilarity of all on the panel) to Mark impersonating him.

There was some fascinating in depth discussions about the portrayal of gay characters in the media and how it has changed over time and about the sad dearth of roles for older women.

The panel were asked what book they were currently reading (Steven – The Shining by Stephen King, Martin said he was a very skittish reader and was reading something about Captain Scott, Louise confessed she hadn’t been reading as she was doing The Trojan Women but had a Moomin book next to her bed which she found quite soothing and Rupert was reading The Hundred Year Old Man who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared)

The panel was asked about what show they’d like to crossover Sherlock with and Martin revealed himself to be very passionate about the show and protective of it and confessed that he had told Mark and Steven that he wouldn’t appear in any sort of Sherlock crossover Children in Need/Comic Relief type sketch. (Cue Steven joking about leaving children to starve but oh well at least Freeman stuck to his guns…)

Andrew Scott was sadly unable to attend and so Mark represented him by bringing on a green velvet clad dummy (with wandering hands no less!) and read out some of the answers he’d given (His favourite scene to film was the sequence as Richard Brooks talking to Sherlock, he considered it an honour to work with Una and he didn’t keep the Westwood suit as as much as he liked it he felt like a prick walking around in it!)

Finally the panel was asked about their favourite Reichenbach theory. Mark got Martin to repeat some of his lines before Mark wandered off stage to get a prop that would explain how Sherlock survived.

And returned holding a can of Red Bull…

 

All in all it was a truly wonderful afternoon,  full of laughter and featuring a much loved panel who had all very kindly given up their time for such a deserving charity. You can find out more about LLGS here and don’t forget to follow them on twitter.