BIG READ: Think, drink, sing and dance like Sherlock himself

Punters Amy Davies, Katie Mendonca and Emma Lawley enjoy drinks at Portsmouth Beer festival. Picture: Ian Hargreaves

Bottoms-up! Portsmouth Beer Festival will return in December

When considering the pillar of Victorian England he upholds, it is almost difficult to believe Sherlock Holmes is the work of fiction, and fiction only. 

Of course, the dark tale of the Hound of the Baskervilles – his landmark case – or the dinosaur-inhabited Lost World his creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle dreamed up, are blatant figments of a wonderful imagination. 

Author Matt Wingett

Author Matt Wingett

But so ingrained into the fabric of what it means to be British is Sherlock, his detective, that I imagine some of his fans, somewhere, would be dumbfounded to learn he never actually existed. 

And that’s unsurprising, his legacy is vast. By far Conan Doyle’s most popular character and, according to Guinness World Records – the most frequently portrayed literary human in film and television (pipped on silver screen appearances only by Bram Stoker's immortal Dracula) – he was brought to life through a stream of four novels and 56 short stories, which began flowing in 1887. 

To younger generations, he is Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey Jr or even Ian McKellen – while to the more seasoned fans he is Jeremy Brett or Basil Rathbone. 

And who knows, to a future following, he may even be a she – a gender swap hinted at by BBC screenwriter Stephen Moffatt (see Doctor Who). 

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

But at the heart of the Baker Street detective’s inception, irrespective of the incarnation in which he comes, is the fact he was thought up during Conan Doyle’s time in Portsmouth. 

That all-important, overarching detail is one that will be celebrated in a series of seven fun-packed events at Holmes Fest 2018. 

The brainchild of Portsmouth author Matt Wingett, the fixture began life just last year as a single evening at the Square Tower in Old Portsmouth. 

Revellers enjoyed stories, singalongs and English ale – all the while donning Victorian garb – and all that, and more, will be amplified seven-fold when it returns later this month. 

Mr Wingett explains: ‘I'm very proud to showcase Portsmouth's connection to the worldwide phenomenon of Sherlock Holmes, and champion the other sides of the extraordinary life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. 

‘Last year was a complete sellout for the Holmes Fest night, and the audience clamoured for more. That's why, this year, it has grown to seven unique events.’ 

The first of the lucky number –  Three Cheers for Arthur Conan Doyle (£10), at 7pm on Wednesday, June 27, at the familiar Square Tower– will herald the events which followed the penman’s June, 1882 arrival as a doctor in our waterfront city. 

Not only did he go on to create Sherlock Holmes, but he also embraced a life of spiritualism – and these are both aspects which will be delved into on this most mysterious night of storytelling, socialising and palm-reading. 

Any visitors to this event should bear in mind Victorian fancy dress is encouraged and rewarded, with a prize going to the best outfit. 

Two nights later, Holmes’ fans will be tasked to join him on a moonlit case in the heart of one of Southsea’s most recognisable and adored landmarks – the King’s Theatre. 

As the sun sets behind its clock tower, organiser and actor Jonathan Fost will embody Conan Doyle's main man as he and Dr Watson tackle reports of a ghost at the site – a notion which has left Victorian Portsmouth shaken. 

Fost and co will explore every nook and cranny of the Albert Road mainstay with a crack team of paying accomplices and, aside from watching this unique and dynamic experience unfold just feet away, it’ll be their job to weigh-in on some very strange goings-on. Or, perhaps, even endure sightings of the supernatural themselves.

Dubbed The Strange Case of the Theatre Ghost (£15), Fost – whose assembly Torchlight Mysteries scored a 2018 Guide Award for their amateur performance of the Hound of the Baskervilles – says this is not a spectacle to be missed. 

‘This will give people a chance to go behind the scenes of the Kings Theatre and explore it top to bottom – accessing areas which the public isn't allowed to,' he explains. 

‘Pair that with the spooky stories of acting theatre workers and a Holmes investigation by torchlight and it becomes something very exciting.’  

Characters and plot points remain tight-lipped for this fixture, but revellers can expect a ‘big reveal’. 

At Moriarty Mysteries, a day later at Canvas Coffee at 11am, festivalgoers can enjoy the first of two free spoken word events highlighting the talent of local writers and performers. 

The second, Sherlock Shoutout at the Hunter Gatherer pub at 7pm on July 3, will even proffer an opportunity for new faces to take the microphone, too. 

Flaunting what earned them a proven track record and rapturous appraise at 2017’s Holmes Fest, melody makers Hudson and Lestrade will once again descend on the Square Tower at 7pm, on July 1 (£10). 

In a night of Victorian music hall , the Holmes characters – played by Matt Parsons and Janet Ayers – will combine humour and history, opening eyes and ears to the origins of a number of old favourites. 

Finally, see off Holmes Fest 2018 in style with Beyond the Hound of the Baskervilles, at Southsea Library on July 4 (£5), and Arthur Conan Doyle's Lost Pint at the Fallen Acorn in Gosport, on July 14 (£10). 

Expect myth-busting, ale-swilling and friend-making – topped off by a screening of Doyle’s classic, The Lost World.