For more than two centuries, tourists visiting London have gawped at wax likenesses of killers and criminals in the basement of Madame Tussauds. Arthur Conan Doyle, the Scottish creator of Sherlock Holmes, visited the Chamber of Horrors as a teenager on a school holiday in 1874. ‘I was alternately thrilled and horrified,’ he said years later, recalling the trip. Some have speculated that Doyle’s affection for the wax museum is the reason his famous detective made his home in Baker Street.
In recent months, the Chamber of Horrors has been banished to make room for a new spectacle. The museum will soon make an announcement about the fate of the grisly exhibition, but for now it’s been replaced by something novel: a show designed to attract Londoners as well as tourists. The bowels of the building have become home to a carefully constructed Victorian streetscape. Lanterns glow on brick walls and a cobbled lane leads to a door marked with a familiar number: 221b. This is the first step in Madame Tussauds’ new Sherlock-themed interactive experience, created by Les Enfants Terribles, the theatre group behind the Olivier Award-nominated ‘Alice’s Adventures Underground’. In daylight hours, visitors of all ages can wander through ‘The Sherlock Holmes Experience’, set to become a permanent fixture. By night, a limited-run theatrical challenge ‘The Game’s Afoot’ offers an adults-only adventure, where visitors roam the space, uncovering clues to solve a murder.
Some characters are well-known from Doyle’s stories (Holmes makes an appearance in a silk waistcoat and a top hat), while others have been invented by the show’s writers, Oliver Lansley and Anthony Spargo. The plot’s twists and turns are laid out on a colour-coded spreadsheet that the actors must memorise in order to tweak their dialogue for a roving audience of 40 people per show, across three nightly performances. Each visitor will experience a different version of the story. As producer Emma Brünjes puts it, ‘it’s like a human board game’.
Those looking for a stereotypical sleuth in a deerstalker will be disappointed, as will those seeking references to Benedict Cumberbatch’s contemporary take in the recent TV series. Brünjes and her team have gone back to Doyle’s stories and used them to create something new. ‘When you deal with these huge characters that have become brands, you don’t want it to be a parody,’ she says. ‘You want to approach it with fresh eyes.’
‘The Sherlock Holmes Experience’ opens Friday 15 July and the late night ‘The Game’s Afoot’ runs from July 18- Sept 30