To mark the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birth, Rupert Holmes' TonyAward-winning 1986 musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood arrives at the Arts Theatre for a limited four-week run after a successful revival at the Landor Theatre.
Based on the final, unfinished novel by the author, the play within a play sees a music hall cast stage a production of Edwin Drood, ‘a musical with dramatic interludes’. Drood vanishes, but why? Is he dead, and who was it? There are many options, a jilted lover of his fiancée, a strange and volatile man from a foreign land or even the priest. No-one knows until audience gets involved to decide who died and whodunit.
With song-sheets in hand we're invited to join in the songs before the play even begins. This kick-starts a raucous atmosphere that's carried throughout by the energetic cast, under the assured direction of Matthew Gould. After the commencement of the play the songs are flawless, the choreography sharp and the staging, under a full music hall proscenium, is sumptuous.
Wendi Peters (best known as Coronation Street’s Cilla Battersby-Brown) illustrates her singing prowess, but is just one member of a strong company that barely put a foot wrong. Daniel Robinson’s John Jasper exudes energy and treads the right line between lovable actor (Mr Clive Paget) and the slightly unhinged Jasper who lusts after his nephew's betrothed, Miss Rosa Bud.
With girls playing boys, tableaux, song, dance and the odd "boo hiss" from the audience, this is pure pantomime in keeping with the production's music hall theme. But there is also depth to the story and a complexity of plot. The songs are polished and the acting is melodramatic and humorous without being ridiculous.
The ongoing audience participation (we get to vote for the ending) keeps the atmosphere alive – and drinks from the bar are allowed into the theatre meaning there's little chance for anyone to be allowed not to have fun. There are laughs aplenty and it's a knee-slapping good time. Whether it’s quite the story Dickens envisioned is another matter entirely...