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Holmes tackles the odd case of the theater audience helping him

Sherlock Holmes: The Fall of the Hung Parliamenta virtual and interactive show runs until June 30 on the Tencent Meeting video conferencing platform. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Though theaters in Shanghai are still closed due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak, shows are gradually returning to online platforms.

One of the latest releases is the Shanghai Grand Theater’s first virtual production, Sherlock Holmes: The Fall of the Hung Parliament.

The virtual and interactive show, co-produced by Shanghai Grand Theatre, Harmonia Theatrical and MG Live, runs until June 30 on Tencent Meeting, a video conferencing platform.

Each show lasts 90 minutes and can be attended by four to ten viewers.

Due to the huge response to the production — more than 60 percent of tickets for the show’s first round were sold — the theater released tickets for a second round, which will run July 1-15. A Sherlock Holmes Adventures spin-off, the play is an adaptation of the English production by Les Enfants Terribles, an award-winning UK theater company.

The story begins with three cabinet members found murdered and Holmes missing.

Each viewer will play the role of a new Scotland Yard recruit and work with John H. Watson, played by a professional actor, to solve the case.

Following instructions and prompts from Watson, viewers will interrogate suspects, analyze crime scenes, and gather evidence, sometimes alone, sometimes as a team.

They also participate in group discussions and use their reasoning skills. Weekday shows are 158 yuan ($24) and weekend shows are 188 yuan.

“We hope that the online production will mark a restart of theater operations after the pandemic and let people know that the shows are back,” says Cao Yebo, general manager of Harmonia Theatrical.

Cao notes that people from all over the country have attended the show. “A key advantage of virtual theater is that it breaks down the barrier of distance or location and allows people to meet at an agreed time for a shared theatrical experience,” he says.

Twenty actors have been recruited to play the role of Watson, who will also serve as the show’s host.

According to Tang Yuze, vice director of Chinese production, it can be challenging for these actors to juggle multiple responsibilities, including operating online props from their computers.

“Such a unique theatrical experience is as new to the audience as it is to the actors,” adds Tang.

While Cao concedes that the show is similar in style to the online crime games that are very popular in China, he points out that the show’s focus is more on the theatrical aspects and storytelling than on the game mechanics.

“This is a new form of theater that will evolve and there are no standard rules for now. We hope to set standards with good acting, logistical support and audience service,” says Cao.

The production is the latest experiment in Shanghai Grand Theater’s online theater program, which launched two years ago.

“We have been livestreaming some high-quality international productions and would like to try some new possibilities with this new virtual immersive theater production,” says Zhang Xiaoding, general manager of the theater.

“This will involve more interactions with the audience. Our ultimate goal is to attract more netizens to the theater and we look forward to meeting audiences here at the live show,” says Zhang.

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