Charles Dickens died halfway through writing his final novel, leaving the mystery of Edwin Drood – the young fiancé of the lovely Rosa Bud, who disappears one Christmas Eve from the house of his peculiar uncle – unsolved. Now, in this excellent revival of Rupert Holmes's musical version, previously seen at the Landor Theatre, you can decide what happened to him for yourself. Billed as 'the solve-it-yourself musical', the show allows audiences to vote for the ending they find most convincing.
It would be easy to dismiss this as gimmicky, were the musical – which won five Tony Awards for its inaugural Broadway run in 1985 – not so much fun. It's a play within a play, set in a Victorian music hall. The actors, rouged and ringletted, hand out songsheets for rousing renditions of 'Champagne Charlie' and 'When Father Papered the Parlour', before telling the story of Drood's disappearance through a series of musical numbers, deliciously bad jokes and hilariously hammy dramatic scenes.
The Arts Theatre, some of whose decor seems not to have been renovated since Victorian times, is the perfect venue for rolling back the years to London's music-hall heyday. The cast of 14 is superb – particularly 'Coronation Street' star Wendi Peters as the opium-touting, bosom-heaving Princess Puffer – and so is the nimble-fingered band. A literary mystery solved – by a musical guaranteed to put a smile on your face.