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Things that go bump in the night

PUBLISHED: 10:57 09 November 2007 | UPDATED: 14:55 20 February 2013

Photograph: Vernoica Cowan

Photograph: Vernoica Cowan

It's that time of year again. Nights are drawing in, ghosts are abroad and the murder mystery season is in full swing. Veronica Cowan investigates...

Hampshire Life, October 2007

murder mystery season is here, and those seeking inspiration for a plot should take a hackney cab to the City Museum in Portsmouth where the super-sleuth Sherlock Holmes now has a permanent home.

A newly-refurbished and specially designed gallery is housing the permanent exhibition of artefacts, memorabilia and ephemera relating to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who created Holmes in Portsmouth when he was a doctor in the city. Interactive displays and a new Sherlock Holmes mystery film provide visitors with the chance to apply logic and guesswork in an attempt to solve The Case of the Portsmouth Doctor, written and performed specially for the exhibition.

Actor Tim Stoakes, whose day job is being headmaster of Waterside School in Portsmouth, is in full costume as Holmes, while RJ Freeman, who has acted in television mysteries like Inspector Wexford, is Dr Watson.
"We had to audition for the roles," Tim explains, "and have been working with the museum in making the film, which tells the story behind the Sherlock Holmes books."
The pair were engaged with groups of children helping them to solve the mystery when I visited the exhibition, and became an unwitting suspect when the detectives noticed I was carrying a carpet bag which they searched without a warrant.

After-dinner skulduggery
Sherlock Holmes returning to the place of his creation should put murder mystery dinners on the menu in Hampshire, although Tim Taylor, managing director of the Hampshire-based Cloak and Dagger company, comments, "They are more popular than ever. It is cyclical, and the autumn and winter is the best time."
His company uses actors who perform at hotels, village halls, churches, schools and charities, with the venue selling the tickets. But murder mystery weekends or dinners can be as varied as any plot, and stay-at-home Miss Marples who catch the detecting bug can even arrange their own mysterious evening, or try a murder mystery game, like 'Sherlock Holmes: The Silver Bullet', set in a remote Hampshire village, alive with rumours of skulduggery and mysterious goings-on.

On the other hand, there is safety in numbers, and a professionally run-event with a full cast might fit the bill perfectly. Many murder mystery evenings or weekends are held in hotels, country houses or even conference centres. Nicholas Cross, a partner in The Killing Game, says, "The venue is very important, to get the right atmosphere."
His company specialises in murder mysteries and is arranging one at the Red Lion Hotel in Basingstoke on December 1, and the Alton House Hotel, located in Jane Austen country, on December 15. "We do it as an interactive entertainment and mystery going on around people," he explains.

There should be plenty of atmosphere at the spooky Victorian forts Widely and Purbrook near Portsmouth, the venues for murder mystery events organised by the aptly-named Katchakilla, with one at Purbrook at Christmastime.

Get the boss
Events can be personalised too, so that the plot is scripted around partners, colleagues or friends, but if you want the boss to be the victim, make sure he or she has a sense of humour first and a forgiving nature. The head waiter, James, is in the frame for the murder mystery being arranged at the Sway Manor Restaurant and Hotel on Friday November 9.

Suspects, clues and an autopsy report should help you find the killer, promises organiser Susie Gosling, who reports that such events are in demand, "We surveyed the customers who come to our events, and got a tremendous response."

These events can be good for team-building, and can also be themed. David Mold, managing director of Four Seasons Event Management in Sway, does corporate murder mysteries and devised one called the Da Vinci Chimes, which he started in the New Forest. The mystery involved searching in the Forest for crucial plans which enable the Lost Chimes of Da Vinci to be constructed and played. Teams are armed with a code, maps, history books and a guide in a race against the clock.

There is no shortage of venues in the county, so why not enjoy an evening or weekend sleuthing for fun. It's elementary
my dear...

Further Information
Portsmouth City Museum,
tel: 023 9282 7261 or visit: www.portsmouthmuseums.co.uk/text/citymuseums
l Cloak and Dagger, tel: 023 9248 4730 or visit: www.murderdinner.co.uk/welcome
l The Killing Game, tel: 0845 1667510 or visit: www.killinggame.co.uk
l Katchakilla, tel: 01329 231361 or visit: www.murdermystery.net
l Four Seasons Event Management, Sway,
tel: 01590 681981 or visit: www.fourseasonsadventures.co.uk
l Red Lion Hotel, Basingstoke,
tel: 01256 328525 or visit www.redlionhotelbasingstoke.com
l Alton House Hotel, Alton,
tel: 01420 80033
l Sway Manor Restaurant & Hotel,
tel: 01590 682754 or visit www.swaymanor.com
l Fort Widley, tel: 02392 324553, Fort Purbrook, tel: 023 9232 1223 or email: Info@PeterAshleyActivityCentres.co.uk
l Sherlock Holmes: The Silver Bullet DVD.
For more information tel: 020 8293 6616 or visit: www.compendia.co.uk/acatalog/Murder_MysteryGames

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