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Highlights and hilarity from The Game is On: An Afternoon with Mark Gatiss and Friends * 13 November 2012

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Out of all venues for an event dedicated to the discussion of an interpretation of Sherlock Holmes, there could be none better than the Criterion Theatre, located on one of London's most famous junctions - Piccadilly Circus - and next to the Criterion Bar, famous as the place where Doctor John Watson first heard the name 'Sherlock Holmes' spoken aloud by Stamford in A Study in Scarlet

The Game is On: An Afternoon with Mark Gatiss and friends was held in support of London Lesbian & Gay Switchboard. Since the event was recorded by LLGS, this isn't a full transcript of what occurred, but rather a collection of many of its highlights that relate most directly to Sherlock. All told, The Game is On was a raucous and hilarious time, with anecdotes coming thick and fast throughout its duration to an almost bewildering, and extremely face aching degree.

To huge cheers from the audience Ian Hallard was first to take to the stage, to both explain the role the charity plays and the format of what we were about to witness, as well as making apologies for Andrew Scott and Una Stubbs, who both sadly had had to drop out of the afternoon due to other commitments. Rather teasingly Ian joked that Martin had also had to drop out, before quickly retracting that in response to the audience's reaction. Ian then introduced our host for the afternoon, Mr. Mark Gatiss.

Mark joked that since this was an event billed as featuring his friends, our first guest would be the head of parking for Westminster council, before calling Steven Moffat and Sue Vertue to the stage. Donning a pair of thick rimmed black glasses, and producing a list of questions submitted via email that were printed on the back of old script pages, Mark played the role of host for the entire event, putting questions to those onstage with his trademark sense of wit that consistently had everyone on stage in stitches, as well as the entire auditorium. With nary a hint of starting as he meant to go on, the first question Mark dropped related to the perceived homoeroticism in BBC Sherlock - or more specifically the thinking that it's Mark who instigates the homo erotic jokes, whereas it's actually Steven. Steven remarked that much of it all stems from the dinner scene as A Study in Pink while Sherlock and John are watching for the taxi, which was inserted as the episode was running under time - and it was Mark who rather astutely noted from then on "You realise this is going to be all they talk about."

The waiting time for PBS broadcast in the United States was brought up, with Sue noting that if possible, that large gap would be reduced. And on a similar vein, it was asked how long Sherlock would run for, with Sue saying that the series would continue for as long as everyone is happy to keep making it. Mark again brought up the desire to see the pair age over years into the roles, something that hadn't really been seen before. That in turn led to discussion of the back story for Sherlock and Mycroft, with Mark extrapolating upon material partially revealed in the DVD commentary for The Great Game. In their invented back story, the sibling rivalry stems from a young Sherlock discovering that the pair's father was having an affair, creating a family rift. The material was cut out of the final version of the episode though, with Steven saying that ultimately they were not happy about including it as it was their own invention and addition to the characters, rather from the source material. There were however minor onset asides to Sherlock's isolation in A Scandal in Belgravia, during the Christmas scene - though they aren't really visible onscreen, all the cards on the mantelpiece above the fireplace were addressed to John, bar one. 

Next up on stage was Louise Brealey, who regaled us with some grim stories about filming in Methyr Tydfil morgue, not confined to finding brains in buckets, knife sharpeners, oddly out of place and thus disturbing implements - such as ladles - lying around, and filming in the location at 4am, or being snowed in there. At one point, when asked what it is like to work with three handsome actors like Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman and Andrew Scott, Mark completed the question, before realising the implication of it and threw down the question papers in mock disgust and petulance, before resuming with a huge grin thanks to huge cheers for him from the audience.

Rupert Graves was next to arrive, and confirmed the famous story of him running away to join the circus as a sixteen year old. In actual fact, he answered an advertisement for apprentice clowns in the job centre, and ended up learning a variety of tricks ranging from juggling to turning water in a bucket into confetti. Rupert confirmed he currently has no plans to appear in theatre due to his young family - joking that arriving home in the late hours tired from work and accidently swearing at a small child isn't terribly conducive to a happy home life. Mark also rather devilishly brought up the fact that since Lestrade and Mycroft have yet to share a scene together there is a degree of fan fiction prevalent online that paired the two up romantically, leading to a genuinely surprised reaction from Rupert that he then rather amusingly played up, appearing quite open to the idea.

Last onstage was Martin Freeman, receiving the biggest welcome but also the most interesting audience interaction throughout, responding to laughter when he wasn't saying anything genuinely funny with an anecdote about his mother in law doing the same, where she ends up laughing when he simply said hello. Martin admitted that his previous knowledge of the characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was actually rather low before he started the series, having only heard of them as part of popular culture, and he was resistant to a modern version of the stories before falling in love with the script. He said he carried out some research for the role, meeting a pair of army doctors who gave him some insight, but didn't stretch himself as far as taking part in any firearms training. Martin also spoke about chemistry between actors, remarking that you recognise it relatively instantly when it happens, as well as being on the cusp of possible superstardom with the arrival of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in just over a month's time, and the uncertainty over whether it will end up changing his life. He said he hadn't seen the complete version of the film, only sections when he carried out some Additional Dialogue Recording (ADR), but affirmed that it looked fantastic.

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After a short interval, the second half was turned over to audience questions, which covered a broad range of subjects, not least fan fiction and John Watson's 'red pants', all of which led to some particularly funny reactions from all on stage best left to any recording of the event. Amongst all the hilarity though, there were several intriguing lines of enquiry, not least some effective dodging on questions related to series three, especially when directly asked about Sebastian Moran. Mark listed the character's qualities as they appear in Conan Doyle's original work, but refused to confirm or deny his appearance in Series Three. Also carefully skirted around was John's possible reaction to Sherlock's return, though Martin hinted at a preference for a punch being involved in some manner….

Much discussion centred around favourite scenes from the series, both to write, film and act in. In the end, all came from A Scandal in Belgravia. Steven said he most enjoyed writing scenes between Irene and Sherlock, as well as the Mycroft and Sherlock exchange in the morgue, as both were far from what normally appears in a Holmes adaptation. Rupert and Louise both said the Christmas scene, with Rupert joking about finding material to play when there was nothing scripted in the stage direction for Lestrade to do. Martin jokingly said he hated all of it, but Sue said that filming in Battersea Power Station was a true highlight and Martin agreed. Mark said that filming in the plane was a strong moment for him, telling of wrangling all the 'dead' - actually, sleeping - extras, and a funny story of Steven arriving on a set visit at 4 am from writing the Doctor Who 2011 Christmas Special and promptly falling asleep in business class. And rather teasingly, Mark also said his favourite scene to write was 'a scene you haven't seen yet'.

At one point, Mark quickly disappeared backstage and returned carrying a green velvet suited stage dummy that he proceeded to use as a stand in Andrew Scott, beginning with an excellent, exaggerated vocal impression of the man himself to answer submitted questions that Andrew had responded to, including his favourite scene to film - the Richard Brook encounter in The Reichenbach Fall. With much hilarity from everyone onstage and in the audience, Mark puppeteered the dummy throughout in a comedic and occasionally suggestive manner!

We'll admit that there's a question we've wanted to ask Steven and Mark for quite a while. While often and repeatedly talking about the Basil Rathebone films and The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, we've never heard them mention in detail their opinions of Jeremy Brett and the Granada series. When asked, Steven immediately called him a brilliant and astonishing Sherlock Holmes. He noted that since Rathebone, nothing genuinely new had been done in the portrayal of the character, and Brett brought a new spin on it with his radical reinterpretation, with Steven saying that his portrayal was manic and somewhat psychotic. Mark said he remembered being hugely excited when he saw the first advert on television, with Brett in a tight fitting cloth cap, and he mistook him for Nigel Havers.  Mark did note though a fair point about the structure of the Granada series, in that stories that only take fifteen minutes to read can be difficult to stretch out to an hour onscreen. He made a point that that opinion was very far from being all inclusive of the entire series, as he thought the long stories were exceptional, while Steven called the best of them utterly tremendous, and Brett was nothing less than utterly watchable.

Another, similar, question was whether there was anything so Victoriana in tone in the original stories it couldn't be adapted to the modern day setting. Mark picked out The Adventure of the Yellow Face, as it was not only an example of Sherlock getting every deduction wrong - which he admittedly does love as concept - but was coupled with a daring depiction of inter racial marriage, something that is now commonplace but at the time potentially shocking to some. On the subject of crossovers, Martin admitted his resistance to the idea, be it with other programmes or as the subject of a charity fundraiser such as Comic Relief or Children in Need, a response which provoked a hugely amused reaction from Steven with him remarking along the lines of 'the children are starving, we didn't really need that well, but at least Freeman stuck to his guns!'

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Finally we came to the close, but not before discussion of favourite Reichenbach survival theories. Mark said they had read all of them, but noted that in the end "Everything is there if you look." Martin at this point requested that they have something else to say in response to the 'how did he do it' question,  as every time he said that he got the impression that people just wanted to punch him in the face.  To end the event, Mark indulged in a spot of role play of the rooftop scene to reveal his personal favourite theory. Deploying a priceless impression of Benedict's expression, and with Martin remembering John's lines in concert, Mark simply said "Goodbye John", before walking off stage and instantly returned with a can of Red Bull, which he promptly cracked open.

With that, this first experience of Sherlock as a near convention level event was over. With its huge doses of humour, trivia and storytelling, it was a tremendously fun time, in support of a very good cause, and we can but hope the first of many similar events as BBC Sherlock continues to grow.

Our huge thanks to all at London Lesbian & Gay Switchboard for organising the event, which sold out within five days and raised around £13,000 for the charity's information and support services to the LGBT community. These include a free and confidential telephone helpline, instant messaging and email support.

If you were unable to attend The Game is On, but wish to find out more about London Lesbian & Gay Switchboard and the excellent work they do, you can visit their website for more information, and also donate directly to the charity.

All photographs are copyright, and used with permission of the London Lesbian & Gay Switchboard, with our further huge thanks.

Mark Gatiss