Ian Merrill Peakes brings Sherlock alive on stage again

Ian Merrill Peakes
Ian Merrill Peakes as Sherlock
Mark Garvin

It’s not the first time actor Ian Merrill Peakes has stepped into the character of Sherlock Holmes, and it may not be the last.

In 2018, Peakes, a Walnut Street favorite, along with another WST go-to Bill Van Horn traveled around the country with ‘Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery.’ Also directed by Van Horn and written by Ken Ludwig, the show had everything a Sherlock fan would love—silliness, mystery and a slew of favorite lines and well-known characters. Now, the duo who played Holmes and Watson (Van Horn) have linked up again, but this time Van Horn has also stepped into the role of writer for the Walnut’s latest production, ‘Sherlock Holmes – The Adventure of The Speckled Band.’

What this show has is virtually all of the same ingredients as before, but with a new mystery, and also with the realization that live shows are truly back— and even though it’s the same stage, it all somehow feels different.

To talk more about working as such a beloved character in this new adaptation (as Peakes say they turned an 18-page story into a two-hour show) actor Ian Merrill Peakes sat down to discuss what it was like working on ‘The Adventure of The Speckled Band’ with a cast that feels like family.

Ian Merrill Peakes
Ian Merrill Peakes and Bill Van HornMark Gavin

How did it feel to step back into the role of Sherlock?

It’s super fun because all of the work is done—everyone knows who Sherlock is, so you actually have to work less hard than with a role that nobody knows anything about. This one is a pretty darn silly, but it’s a little less silly than Baskervilles. Bill and I have a really lovely relationship as Watson and Sherlock and I adore Bill, and that comes through on stage. It’s a really fun role to come back too, and I hope we get to do it again because it’s a fun journey to take.

How would you describe some of the characteristics that Sherlock is known for?

I think the beauty of Sherlock is that he takes everything in and processes it at a pace that is inhuman. He’s a freak of nature in that way. So, he looks at something and he can identify so many attributes to that something that he’s looking at that nobody would be able to think about. The fun of playing Sherlock is you get to be a lot smarter than you really are.

How would you describe ‘Sherlock Holmes-The Adventure of the Speckled Band’?

The story of the ‘Speckled Band’ starts in the short story, and in the play, [with] a young woman who has died, and they can’t figure out how she was killed. There’s a stepfather and another sister, and her life becomes in danger a year later, and as time goes by,  it’s sort of turning out to be a version of what happened to the first daughter. If I tell you anything about it, it sort of gives stuff away. But it’s a sendoff and an homage at the same time.

For fans of Sherlock then what are some homage moments they will recognize?

There are a couple of lines that are straight from Conan Doyle— “Elementary, my dear Watson” is probably one of the most famous lines and it’s in the play. I say “The game’s afoot…as someone once said,” and [Sherlock] is of course referring to Conan Doyle who wrote that one originally. So, there’s some famous expressions that people will [recognize,] and every night the audience responds oh I know that line. So, that’s fun. And literally my first entrance I come in swinging on a door, the audience loves it because he is such an iconic character. So, the Sherlock stuff is in it but not really in ACT I, he appears mostly in Act II, he’s got a short little vignette in ACT I and that’s it.

What are some benefits about re-visiting a role with some of the same cast members on stage?  

One of the best things about being a Philadelphia actor is most of the time, you’re working with people that you’ve worked with before or have had a beer with before. You have these relationships. A lot of times when you’re working with strangers, you can have just as good as an experience, but the work that goes into creating relationships on stage with people that you don’t know on day one of rehearsal… it just takes longer. My wife is in this play, one of my best friends Dan Hodge is in this play, Justin Lujan is a guy I’ve worked with before, Mary Martello has known me since I was four years old. She worked at my dad’s theater when I was growing up in Michigan. Then, Bill is an old buddy. So, that’s the group and I know them all very well. That’s what happens in Philadelphia.

Ian Merrill Peakes
Ian Merrill Peakes and Bill Van HornMark Garvin

What do you hope people take away from the show?

Often when you start a show at the Walnut Street, the audience just watches. Most nights [now] they’ve applauded when the curtain goes up and that’s just—we’re back. This is very exciting for them and for us. The thing I want people to take away from this is just to sit back and be entertained for two hours and forget all of the other crap going on in the world. Just sit there and be washed over by silliness and have a good time. You can do that with a really stirring long days journey into night or with a really silly Shakespeare play or with a complete send-up of a Sherlock story… and if people can go outside themselves and not think about anything else for two hours, that’s what I hope happens. And it seems to be happening most nights, people are just investing in the silliness.

Catch ‘Sherlock Holmes – The Adventure of The Speckled Band’ onstage until March 27 at The Walnut Street Theatre (825 Walnut St.) Tickets and more information can be found at walnutstreettheatre.org

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