Review: The Mystery Of Edwin Drood - The Landor Theatre, London

The Mystery Of Edwin Drood
The Landor Theatre

Thursday 12th April: You could be forgiven for being a little tired of hearing Charles Dickens’s name at the moment. The 7th of February this year marked the 200th anniversary of his birth, and since then there’s been an explosion of Dickens-related events, including new television and film adaptations, biographies, documentaries, radio programmes, tours, lectures, exhibitions, read-a-thons and much, much more. The revival of the musical version of his final, uncompleted work, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, could then simply be lost amidst the sheer wealth of options available for fans of the great man. However, such a loss would be, as Dickens himself would put it, ‘a jolly shame’, as I found myself thoroughly enjoying this lively, cheerful production.

Dickens was roughly halfway through writing The Mystery of Edwin Drood when he died in 1870 and, to the frustration of his readers, left no hint of how he planned to complete the story. Since then, writers, literary critics and fans have continually debated his intentions for the ending. Is Edwin dead, missing or hiding? If he is dead, has he been killed by the obvious candidate, his scheming uncle John Jasper, or by someone else? And what is the identity of the mysterious Dick Datchery, a character who appears for the first time in Dickens’s penultimate installment? This musical adaptation gives the audience the opportunity to decide for themselves by means of a democratic vote, meaning each viewing may produce a different result!

The interactive nature of this vaudevillian-style production was emphasized from the very beginning, with the actors milling around and welcoming us in character as we took our seats, handing us a song sheet and encouraging us to join in. The musical takes the form of a play within a play, with ‘the actors of the Theatre Royale’ performing as Dickens’s creations. This innovative idea results in some excellent comic moments, the highlight being when the Chairman William Cartwright (Denis Delahunt), was forced to take on the role of Mayor Sapsea, due to the planned actor supposedly being too drunk to appear on stage. In the first half of the play we are taken through the main events of Dickens’s portion of the story in musical form, whilst in the second the story relies on the audience’s decisions.

The songs are memorable and superbly performed by the entire cast, particularly Daniel Robinson as Clive Paget/John Jasper and Wendi Peters as Angela Prystock/Princess Puffer (you may know her best as Cilla Battersby-Brown in Coronation Street). The audience vote for the murderer after the interval was also delightfully chaotic, with the actors all canvassing for votes at once and attempting to influence the outcome. I won’t reveal which character was eventually chosen, but as someone with a good knowledge of Dickens’s original, it was definitely unexpected!

All in all, this was a highly enjoyable evening. The influences of pantomime and music hall on this production were a welcome contrast to the darker, more sober style of the recent BBC2 adaptation, and felt authentically Victorian. The actors were all clearly enjoying themselves, particularly David Francis as a hilariously hammy Neville Landless, and the music, led by James Cleeve on piano, was faultless.

Whether you’re familiar with Dickens’s original or not, if you’re looking for a production where you can laugh, cheer, boo, hiss and sing along, as well as choose your own ending, I’d heartily recommend this!

Review by Emma Curry

Produced by:
(Children of Eden Charity Gala; The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas)
(Ragtime; The Hired Man; John & Jen) 

The Mystery of Edwin Drood

April - May 2012

Wednesday 11th April - Saturday 5th May 2012
7.30pm (3pm Saturday & Sunday, 7pm Friday,
no performances on Mondays)

The Landor Theatre, 70 Landor Road,
London, SW9 9PH

Tickets: £18/£15 (concs)
Box Office: 0207 737 7276