The Game Is On: An Afternoon With Mark Gatiss and Friends

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It is absolutely no secret to anyone who knows me that I am a very big Sherlock Holmes fan. I wrote a post (featuring keysmash and Tumblrese) earlier this year about my fascination with the most recent BBC series and how it has rekindled my fondness for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved character. So when Ian Hallard (partner of Sherlock co-writer Mark Gatiss) started to post enigmatic tweets claiming that we Sherlock fans may have something to look forward to in mid-November, I was intrigued to say the least.

One day in mid-November, one of my friends spotted an event that had come up on Ticketmaster, called ‘The Game Is On: An Afternoon With Mark Gatiss and Friends – in aid of the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard‘. Of course, she linked me to it and, although the “friends” had not yet been announced, I purchased my ticket immediately correctly anticipating there would be a rush for sales once the guests were announced, which was a couple of days later.

The initial guest list was as follows: Steven Moffat, Sue Vertue, Louise Brealey, Andrew Scott, Rupert Graves, Martin Freeman and Una Stubbs. As predicted, the event sold out within minutes after that. Unfortunately, it was later announced that Andrew Scott and Una Stubbs had to withdraw due to filming commitments, but the event went on nevertheless.

I arrived at the Criterion Theatre in Piccadilly half an hour before the show was due to start. There were swarms of predominantly female fans in Sherlock t-shirts standing outside, excitedly discussing what they were expecting from the event and what they hoped the panel would talk about. I was surprised by the number of people who had come from abroad (I met a few people from Germany, Italy, France, Ireland, the US, and one from Kazakhstan) especially for the event.

Once the lights had dimmed in the auditorium, Ian Hallard walked onstage to give us a bit of information about the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard and the good work that they do in the city, providing support and advice to people of all ages. We were assured a large percentage of our ticket fees would go towards the charity.

Next, Mark Gatiss took to the stage amid enthusiastic applause from the audience. He introduced the event and brought out his guests one by one, selecting questions which had been sent in by fans in the first half. The second half of the discussion was dedicated to audience questions. The tone of the discussion was informal throughout, and all of the guests shared a quick and irreverent sense of humour, meaning the entire audience was in stitches for most of the two-hour-long event.

We were asked very nicely not to take photos, and we were assured professional photos would be taken and an audio recording of the event would be made available to the public soon.

It would be impossible for me to discuss everything that was said at the event (I would definitely recommend you listen to the audio once it is released) but I will talk about some of the highlights of the discussion.

Firstly, it seemed almost inevitable (given how ubiquitous it is within the fandom) that the topic of homoerotic subtext in the series would be brought up during the event. Gatiss said he had known when the scene at Angelos was written for the first episode of the show, that it would be “all people ever talked about”. Moffat confirmed what we all knew – that Sherlock Holmes and John Watson make for an engaging love story; however, he said there was a marked difference between love and sex. “Fancying somebody,” he said, “is all about how you spend your night. Loving somebody is how you spend your life.” Gatiss and Moffat both agreed that the relationship between Holmes and Watson is a beautiful, complex and realistic one – but it is not a sexual one. I am glad they addressed this issue, because it is important that there be portrayals of strong male friendships in popular culture. In real life, we have important relationships with our closest friends which often do not lead to sexual relationship but as just as valuable and meaningful to our lives, if not more so. Gatiss and Moffat also said that although some people within the series often make the assumption that Holmes and Watson are a couple, the assumption is a fond one and not pejorative. They made it very clear that they would never use this dynamic to somehow take the mickey out of any relationship – homosexual or otherwise.

Martin Freeman spoke about his upcoming role in The Hobbit and said he expected his life would change to some extent following its release, but he expressed some apprehension about this and said he has always tried his best to keep his personal life separate from his career. He also – much to the fandom’s amusement – brought up the fact that he was painfully aware of the (sometimes risqué) things posted about John Watson on the Sherlock fandom’s many Tumblr accounts and, with a tone of amusement, accused us fans of being “f–king shocking!”

One of my favourite panelists was Louise Brealey, who plays the sheepish but clever Molly Hooper in the series. Brealey is delightfully awkward in person, seemingly humbled by the amount of fans the show (and herself, as a consequence) has garnered, and obviously very intelligent and funny. During the second half of the show, she lamented the lack of good roles for female actors and spoke about her chagrin at the fact that women tend to be pigeonholed and typecast in the entertainment industry, especially once they have hit a certain age. Freeman agreed with her and attributed this to the received (but inaccurate) wisdom that men age more gracefully than women. He said that was a lie men had managed to make into an assumed truth, which explained why male actors didn’t really have to worry about roles dwindling after their mid-30s. Both Brealey and Vertue reached the conclusion that there were also more male roles than female because the majority of writers out there were male, and they appealed to female writers to make their voices heard.

On a similar vein, Gatiss bemoaned the fact that there was so much pressure in the industry for actors to look like they are “about four years old”, and that so many beautiful people were ruining their faces with plastic surgery in order to meet this standard. He also criticized the great deal of airbrushing in film posters, saying it made acts look like “eggs”.

I was quite pleased that I was given the opportunity to present my  own question to the panel – one which, to my knowledge, has not been asked before. I stated there was a lot of excitement among fans about the canon character of Sebastian Moran who, despite not having been featured in the series (yet), seems to have taken a life of his own in fan art and fan fiction (to which Gatiss dryly remarked, “Has he now?”). Asked whether they could reveal anything about their own representation of Moran, Gatiss listed a number of canon characteristics about him but said they could not say anything about their own series for fear of spoiling the surprise. “Or lack thereof!”, Moffat was quick to interject.

Ambiguous as ever.

Next came an intelligent question about what they thought about the portrayal of homosexuality in popular media and culture and how it has changed over the years. Gatiss cited John Inman’s character, Mr Humphries, on Are You Being Served in the 1970s as one of the first gay characters he was aware of on TV. He said at the time it was accepted for his flamboyantly gay persona to be used as a device for humour and said that before Humphries became a break-out character, he was portrayed as somewhat sinister. Gatiss said he is glad to see that nowadays, it is becoming more and more the norm that a character’s sexuality is incidental and is not used as a defining feature. This means it is no longer necessary to step on eggshells. Heroes and villains can be gay or straight without people suspecting an agenda and that, he said, is absolutely the way it should be.

One audience member brought up the somewhat controversial question of what the cast and creators thought about the latest representation of Sherlock Holmes currently being aired on TV – CBS’ Elementary, to which they very diplomatically replied that they had never seen it and so could not give their opinion. Gatiss also pointed out that Holmes was an institution which was popular, strong and well-loved enough to be able to take multiple representations without losing gravitas.

The event ended on a humorous note when the panel were asked what their favourite Reichenbach theories were. To answer this question, Gatiss and Freeman (very casually) re-enacted the Season 2 cliffhanger scene of Holmes on the rooftop of St Bartholomew’s hospital as he speaks to Watson on the phone. “Here is what happened next,” said Gatiss, producing a can of Red Bull and opening it up. “It gives you wings, you see?”

All in all, the event was a tremendously enjoyable one which was well worth the price of the ticket and which will have appeased any Sherlock fan. I look forward to future events of a similar kind and, like all other fans, wait with bated breath for Season 3, which is due to start filming in early 2013.

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