Advice from Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes' pipe.

Sherlock Holmes is known as one of the great detectives, even though he was a fictional character. Perhaps the better detective was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who wrote the famous books, although we do not know whether he actually solved any crimes.

Holmes offers his advice on how to solve crimes. He says that it takes dedication and practice of the following skills:

You have to be able to see things that others do not

This is critical for the detective. Everything potentially has a story, how things are placed at a crime scene could explain what happened. This is one of Holmes’ key skills – an ink stain on a gloved finger indicates that someone is left handed, for example.

You have to know where to look for clues

The first clues that you see in an investigation may tell you what to rule out, so you must not assume that everything is a positive clue. In one episode of Columbo a cuff link falls into an umbrella and a murder scene and he manages to find it, thus placing a suspect at the scene.

You should have a knack for wearing disguises

This is perhaps more important in the Holmes stories than it is in real life. However, observation can be an important aspect of a case. You might be surprised to find out how much access you can gain with workmen’s overalls and a clipboard, particularly if you can get some plausible ID. Now, do not get into trouble!

You must study evidence closely

Study the evidence and keep an open mind for as long as possible. Once an opinion is formed the inexperienced investigator might be prone to adapting everything to fit that theory. The longer you can keep an open mind the better. In our murder mysteries we advise people to seek method, motive and then murderer. The evidence is like a jigsaw puzzle, and every piece must be examined.

Knowledge of people, and their curious ways

This is class Holmes terminology. At the core of this is the advice that you should never assume. People have all sorts of motivations and they are not always predictable. However, there are personality types and understanding these can help you to understand motivations. These are worth understanding.

Times have changed, and solving crime using forensics has made great advances since Sherlock Holmes’ times. Yet we should not depend too much on technology, and the understanding of people and observation are still just as important as they were then.

 

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Murder Mystery Options

Here are our most popular plots:

The Reading Of The Will

This is a traditional Murder Mystery which is set around an aristocrat’s will reading. The characters are his wife, wayward son, money grasping brother and a solicitor. The reading is interrupted by DI Willy Catchem who has found a body in the grounds of the hotel.

This can be contemporary or 1920s (Downton / Gatsby). We also have a three actor version where the characters are DI Catchem , the solicitor and the family’s maid.

Little House of Horrors

The setting is the UK launch of Little House of Horrors, a cross between a horror film and 50 Shades of Grey. The film has been a cult hit in the USA and the producer is now launching it in the UK. He is the victim and he dies in front of the audience, coming back after a cunning costume change as DI Willy Catchem. The other characters are his wife, a one famous actress, a young starlet, a gangster financier and a write who claims his script has been stolen. This script is great fun and clients can dress black tie or in horror costumes.

Conference Chaos

This is for larger conferences and we need a stage. It can be run as an afternoon or over dinner. The Six Sigmas are a conference act who bring Japanese management techniques over to the UK. They introduce themselves in a high energy opening which has the whole room joining them in a rousing rendition of ‘If You’re Happy And You Know It, Clap Your Hands’ before their leader keels over, dead. The rest of the group, which includes a hypnotist, a Japanese language specialist and a health guru are all suspects.

This is designed to be a surprise for the audience. The start becomes increasingly ridiculous and the audience will start to cotton on.

James Bond / Spy Theme

It’s the annual Spy Of The Year awards. 007 is absent, away on a mission. M is hosting, assisted by Pocketmoney, and 006 and 004 are present, both up for this prestigious award. Visiting on a friendly exchange from Russia we have their top agent, WD40.

When WD40 is murdered M is looking at an international incident. A friend of the service, DI Willy Catchem, is sent for so the mystery can be wrapped up discretely and an incident averted.

Who Killed Father Christmas?

This is the festive show. Camberwick Toys have had a very successful year and are about to reappoint their Father Christmas, a role which carries a £20,000 bonus for the member of staff who takes it on. Hugh and Phyllis Pugh run the company assisted by Cuthbert Dibble, marketing director. Barney McGrew is the firm’s handyman, and he wants the Santa gig that is currently being held by John Grubb, who is the victim of the night’s murder.

So the characters are Phyllis Pugh plus Hugh Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert Dibble and one of them killed Grubb.

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Acting in Murder Mysteries

An actor in a murder mystery talking to a guest.

Acting in murder mystery dinners is very different to other forms of acting. The typical format has a scripted start and a scripted end and it may contain some scripted interaction in the middle, but the main element is role play and improvisation – interacting with the audience. So the start may be five to ten minutes long and then end may be of a similar length and then there can be a couple of hours of improvised work between them. So, having rules is important.

The characters can go on as many red herring stories as they like in creating their character. The one rule is that you must never involve another character in a story that they don’t know about because they will be questioned about it and won’t know. This is critical.

Actors should avoid talking over each other. This is particularly important during the opening scene where the audience is new to the experience and they can be overwhelmed. There is a lot of information that needs to be passed over, including the murder itself, and the atmosphere should not be more confusing than the script itself.

Only the murderer can ‘lie’, which they do to protect themselves from suspicion. Everyone else must stick to the key facts around the known story, which is documented in the script and the clues that the audience see. These include love notes, bank statements and newspaper clippings. Any actor connected to a specific clue must know about it, including any key times, dates or interactions with other suspects.

If you tell one team something then you need to make sure that you tell all groups the same thing if they prompt for it. If they don’t ask a specific question then it’s perfectly okay not to tell them that detail. After all, the objective is to actually solve the mystery.

When it comes to the script don’t worry about delivering the lines verbatim. This is not Shakespeare and none of the audience know what to expect. So focus on getting the meaning across. With more experienced crews the actors will often help another actor out by covering any key points that they miss. In our murder mysteries we have a specific character in each of our plots which is suitable for a new team member. This character is a suspect but is not the murderer and he or she has limited past history with the other characters. This makes them a viable suspect, an outsider is always suspicious, but there are fewer traps. This means that we can bring new actors into our troupe and give them experience without too much risk.

The main advice is to have fun, to relax and enjoy the experience. The atmosphere at a murder mystery is always fun and people just want to enjoy themselves. If you slip up, keep going and between you and your team of fellow actors you can build in any missed clues fairly quickly. Improvisation is a specific and very demanding form of acting. The two hours that the event takes fly past and during that time you will have been a completely different person. It can be almost as though you suddenly step back into your own life after a short break and the last thing that you can remember is standing outside the room waiting to go in.

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The Plot of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

There’s no-one better than Walt Disney for taking someone else’s story and making it feel like their own.  Most people would incorrectly assume that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney’s first full-length cel animated feature film released in 1937, was an original work from the House of Mouse, but they’d be wrong. The story is actually based on a German fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm written in 1812.

It may be classed as family entertainment with its beautiful hand-drawn animation but the story has darker overtones which belies its colourful characters and catchy, sing-a-long musical numbers. The film has all the hallmarks of a traditional fairytale. A wicked step-mother / queen, a charming prince and damsel in distress waiting to be rescued. So far, so good but at first glance Snow White might not have seemed like a typical character a country under the cloud of austerity could get behind, but get behind her they did. When the film was released, America was struggling under The Great Depression. Unemployment was incredibly high, society was seeing authority getting tough under increasingly harsh conditions and food was in short supply. They shared a bond with our heroine that has lasted ever since. Despite being a princess, Snow White was suffering under her own hardships. Living under the tyranny of her regally wicked stepmother, she had to fight for everything as was forced to work under very difficult conditions.

As the film begins, the Magic Mirror that the Queen consults on a daily basis to reinforce her own self esteem delivers some bad news. She is no longer the ‘fairest of them all’, that honour now belongs to her step daughter Snow White, so named as her “skin is as white as snow”. To remove this problem she instructs her huntsman to take her into the forest and murder her, returning with her heart in a bejewelled box. So far, so dark. Thankfully, he can’t go through with it and orders her to escape into the forest. Lost and alone she finds comfort in a variety of woodland creatures who lead her to a cottage. This is no empty, deserted house and she wrongly assumes, due to the number of small chairs she finds, that it belongs to seven orphaned children, much like her.

In fact the chairs don’t belong to children, but to 7 working-class, mining dwarfs with names that illustrate their characters or traits. They appear uncivilised with a lack of etiquette and one is so uneducated he can’t even speak. From the token fool (Dopey) to the brains of the operation (Doc) they are wary of Snow White to the point that one remarks that “all females are poison”. Despite their initial scepticism, they soon warm to her and roles are reversed, laying down rules as any parent would to their children; don’t speak or take things from strangers and to be wary of any tricks her step mother might play on her. She doesn’t listen and, whilst in the woods, soon takes a cursed apple from a mysterious stranger who, unbeknown to her, is the Queen in disguise. The Queen still wants her dead and her jealousy is making her blind to right and wrong.

Of course, it’s a Disney movie so we know good will always triumph over evil in the end. The prince reappears for only the second time in the film and lays a kiss on Snow White’s lips. The curse is broken and, naturally, they all live happily ever after, unlike the original story. What does it tell us? Well, despite the dark times, hope and belief in good things will ultimately see you through. Whether it’s the broken country struggling under the depression era or the broken family within the story, love will conquer all. The film is now considered an animated classic and has been enjoyed by countless people since its release.

Children love Snow White but there are darker undertones to the story and it is a plot that gains significance when you consider the time in which it was set.

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The plot of the film The Sixth Sense

The Sixth Sense wasn’t the first film directed by M. Night Shyamalan but it was certainly his first stand out hit. Released in 1999, the film stars Bruce Willis as child psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe and newcomer Haley Joel Osment as Cole Sear, a boy with an unnerving ability to see dead people. Whether the film is classed as a thriller, a horror or an old-fashioned ghost story is up for debate. One thing that is clear is that it sent shockwaves through audiences the world over when it was first released.

At the start of the movie Dr. Malcolm is returning from a night out with his wife. They have attended a glitzy event where he had been honoured for his work with children. Despite a lovely home and a beautiful wife, his work remains Dr. Crowe’s first love, but that love is about to come crashing down. Vincent Grey, an ex-patient of Malcolm Crowe, has invaded their home brandishing a gun. He strongly believes that he was wrongly treated by Dr. Crowe years earlier when, as a child, he was suffering from hallucinations. This mistreatment has caused him serious mental problems into adulthood. Not wanting to be afraid anymore, he takes revenge and shoots Dr Crowe before turning the gun on himself.

After recovering from the gunshot, Dr. Crowe returns to work and soon meets Cole, a boy who seemingly suffers from the same condition as Vincent. Despite some doubts, he is determined not to let this patient down and Malcolm dedicates himself to helping the boy and his fraught mother. Cole, in his own words, “sees dead people”. They haunt his every waking day. He sees them at school, he sees them at home although whether he actually sees them or not is a key choice the audience has to make. Either way, the boy believes he does, which causes the relationship with his mother to become increasingly strained. Enter Dr. Malcolm Crowe. Dr. Crowe isn’t sure whether to believe him either, but worries that another misdiagnosis could have huge ramifications on everyone. As he throws himself back into work, his wife is drifting into the arms of another man.

The film plays on the notion that children are more attuned to seeing strange, even psychological events than adults. By removing their cynicism and disbelief, they are open to experiences that adults choose not to believe in. It also asks a question that most other films of this type do not. What is it that ghosts want? If they take the trouble to appear, why don’t they ask anything of them? The Sixth Sense answers this profound question in spades. Crowe suggests to Cole that he finds a purpose for his ‘gift’; helping the spirits he sees to resolve any unfinished business they may have. He also helps Crowe to better communicate with his wife, by suggesting he speaks to her whilst she sleeps. Cole promises that this way, she will hear everything he has to say.

Cole soon learns not to fear the dead people he sees, but to use his skills to help them. By learning about their lives and death, he becomes the conduit for their resolution. As much as he helps the dead, he also helps the living by reconciling his relationship with his mother who has issues of her own with her deceased mother. Sadly, Dr. Crowe’s marital problems can not be solved.

Of course, the biggest talking point occurred at the end of the film. Everyone who saw it wanted to keep it secret, but most of them found it difficult to keep quiet. If you haven’t seen the film then stand by for a huge Spoiler Alert. Be careful though, as once you know there’s no turning back. Are you ready for it? It turns out that Bruce Willis CAN act after all.

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Mysterious Events

Mysterious trees on a foggy night.Murder mysteries have grown in popularity as a corporate event. One of the major advantages of this format is that people do not need to physically participate so it suits more or less any guest.

Typically a murder mystery is delivered by a group of actors from an external corporate event company. Sometimes parts can be written for employees of the company organising the event and this can make it more personal and memorable.

This sort of event can become quite competitive as the storyline builds. Those who want to really get involved tend to do so while those who are less interested can break away and chat. This social team bonding event format works well because it is not forced and people can approach it however it best suits them.

Murder mysteries can be arranged at any location with suitable space. The best events are held at venues with the right atmosphere; so gothic mansion style hotels or castles are ideal. There are also specialist locations such as crypts and prisons which make ideal settings. As with any event the quality of the meal is crucial, but compromises do not need to be made as plenty of suitable venues have excellent catering.

The key is to choose a professional company who have experience of delivering events to an intelligent and sophisticated corporate clientele. A badly written script with corny lines can be excruciating.

There will be a high level of audience interaction and this is crucial in making the event enjoyable. Often the funniest moments happen ‘off script’ as exchanges between the actors and the characters that exist in every group.

Experienced actors know how to choose those people by observing the group from the outset. Some people prefer to watch quietly whilst others enjoy getting involved and having the chance to show off a little. Differentiating between the two is a key skill of experienced actors.

The format is also particularly effective as a team building event. If you have a wide range of ages and a mixture of genders this event will have a broader appeal than, say, quad biking or paintball. Teams will need to communicate in order to investigate the crime and solve the mystery so it makes an excellent icebreaker.

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Preparing For Murder

A gun, hat and murder mystery script.

Tonight we are holding a Murder Mystery at the Grand Harbour Hotel in Southampton. It’s our Little House of Horrors script which centres around the UK launch of a film that has done very well in America. The plot is a cross between a horror film and 50 Shades of Grey, so it fits in with current memes. I must remember to research whether 50 Shades has made it into America and whether it means anything over there.

The procedures of preparing are almost ritualistic. First the script and clues is changed to take into account the date. How many times have I done this now? Seeing the dates and places of the last performance of this script takes me back, this time to exactly a week ago – last Friday – at Syon Park south of London. Was that really only a week ago? That was an audience of 150 from Germany and other countries in Europe. After a slightly confusing start for them they warmed up and loved it. What a great way to learn more English.

I am convinced that one way of making a life seem as though it lasts longer is to fill it with experiences. There is a paradox; you do a lot of different things with different people at different locations and what what recent seems long ago while what was long ago often feels recent.

As well as the script costumes and props need to be prepared. My Trilby hat is starting to look well worn – how many times has that been worn to imply that the character is a gangster? Trilby hat, pinstripe suit and black and white brogues; what am I, some sort of cliché? Finally, there is the gun. Used rounds from the last event are removed and replaced with fresh ones. This is Gun 2 and it’s fresh and tight, whereas Gun 1 – the original – is now grey with gunpowder and much looser after a few hundred shows.

We’re ready to go. This is quite an enjoyable ritual and while I’m doing it I go through the script in my head. I expect that many actors have a ritual before their performance – the calm before the storm. Can I say ‘break a leg’ to myself?

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