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.
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5 / 5
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Terrific show with masses of energy, great songs and superb choreography. It does not flag from music hall warm-up before the start to the finale. The cast handle the material magnificently, especially the random elements that ensue from over 500 possible endings! It is a rare treat to see such a talented and tight ensemble. A fabulous evening is guaranteed!
I resally enjoyed it and booked to go see it again before the run ends. Very impressive music and cast. You know its a good show when a standing ovation is given.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood at the Arts Theatre- Explores Charles Dickens unfinished final novel, who died half way through writing it. We are introduced to members of the 'Theatre Royale', by an excellent, traditional Chairman (Denis Delahunt), hosting a music hall style rendition of the story. Pre show opening songs, such as 'Champagne Charlie', cleverly transforms the Arts Theatre into a 19th century Music Hall, buzzing with audience participation (song sheets provided) stiffened by cast members in the auditorium, successfully encouraging people to join in. The Musical Play then begins and the plot develops quickly, amidst good songs, sung well by various characters. The plot works through the murder (or was it)? The first act needs time to develop because of the depth of Dickens characterisation. Possible motives are presented for each suspect- obvious clues are amusingly emphasised, then the audience is asked to vote, after passionate pleadings from each suspect to vote for Them! The vote scene is hilarious, and there is much wit and funny lines throughout. Most impressive is the combined strength of the cast; each member oozing proficiency in clarity, expression and timbre. The songs provide great variety, some being used cleverly to develop character, interspersed with gusty choruses from 'the entire company'- every movement is choreographed with panache and fine detail. Music is voraciously led from the electric piano by James Cleeve, including flute, clarinet, percussion, trumpet and cello, (I couldn't discern a single wrong note)! Costumes and scenery are very impressive. Each performer shows professional sparkle and excellence, but the extra gush and tingle factor came for me as Wendi Peters powerfully and reliably let rip from the very first note of 'Don't Quit While You're Ahead', right up to the end of the show, inspiring those around her superbly, with a stirringly excellent finale, she is now, historically, a Music Hall Star! Finally, the serious strands of this Dickensian feast are subtly brought together in 'The Writing On The Wall' by Edwin Drood (Natalie Day), who sings with great feeling and emotion. Dickens was himself a successful entertainer, so would have loved this delightful production - he would also have savoured the argument, mystery and stimulation of debate, and would have adored the excitement in the audience. This novel is well documented as the most discussed of all, and for good reason. The production has grown tremendously beyond the Landor, and I did write that I believed it should get to the West End- the obvious courage, determination and graft that has gone into 'Drood' has paid off splendidly. The intimate, comfortable Arts Theatre, is a delightful venue. Does more await? Certainly it is good enough! The timing is right, celebrating 200 years of the great man. In any event, again, congratulations to the cast, production team and Director Matthew Gould.