Charles Dickens famously died halfway through writing The Mystery of Edwin Drood, leaving the mystery unsolved and thus even more mysterious than he had intended. Rupert Holmes’s 1985 ‘solve-it-yourself musical’ aims to complete the story by putting the conclusion in the hands of the audience. Matthew Gould’s revival was recently seen at the Landor Theatre and has now transferred to the Arts Theatre.
This is a show with tongue firmly planted in cheek – Holmes frames Dickens’ story in a musical-within-a-musical setting. From the moment we enter the auditorium we are in a Victorian music-hall, complete with song sheets, off-stage dramas and a chairman who hosts the evening’s entertainment, and introduces his fellow performers as they enter and take on characters within the story. This concept provides plenty of comic moments, but unfortunately means the action keeps stopping and starting, making it difficult to invest in the plot and characters.
it is Wendi Peters as the enigmatic madam Princess Puffer who really impresses
With a cast of fifteen, the small stage is often full, and the energetic company numbers – under James Cleeve’s tight musical direction – give a real sense of music hall hubbub. Daniel Robinson’s high-octane performance as Edwin’s dastardly uncle John Jasper stands out in an uneven cast, but it is Wendi Peters as the enigmatic madam Princess Puffer who really impresses. At times hilarious, and at others heart-breaking, her Act 1 sing-along ‘The Wages of Sin’, and her 11 o’ clock number ‘The Garden Path To Hell’ are the musical highlights of the show.
Although Act 1 feels meandering at times, Act 2 is an absolute joy, with the cast clearly having a ball as the audience are given the power to change the course of the action. Without wanting to give too much away, it is safe to say that the outcome at this particular performance was probably not quite what Dickens had intended, but when the audience and cast are having this much fun, it is difficult to mind too much.
*** (3 stars)
Runs until June 17th