‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’ Review

The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Savoy Opera Group

Pleasance Theatre

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The familiarity of the Pleasance Theatre is completely forgotten upon entry as one becomes completely submerged into Dickens’ 18th century world, where characters are already milling around the audience, picking on individuals and charming us with their tongue in cheek humour. The University’s very own Savoy Opera Group presents the first out of their three annual plays, Dickens’ final and unfinished mystery murder novel: The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Indeed, the incompleteness of the novel lends itself to its ‘Whodunnit’ genre, as we never find out the identity of Drood’s murderer. The story itself follows the characters’ intertwined lives rather than an actual plot, focusing on Drood’s uncle, choirmaster John Jasper, who is enamoured with his pupil Rosa Bud: Drood’s fiancée and also the object of fiery-tempered Neville Landless’ affections, whom Drood immediately takes a disliking to. The fourth wall is not just broken but utterly obliterated as the first electric musical number leads into the captivating, omnipresent narrator openly making jokes about Dickens’ death. The narrator acts as an eloquent master of ceremonies, wittingly acquainting the audience with each character on their debut. Cvxfadsqerw1342

The play succeeds in containing strong elements of pantomime without being cringe worthy, including not just audience participation but Drood being played by a woman and, at times, introduces realist theatre aspects such as using the real actors’ names – all of these aspects provoking consistent laughter and participation from the audience. However, there are also abstract ballet dance scenes, most notably to represent Jasper’s opium-caused inebriation. These contrast to the Narrator and Jasper’s dance duo, which is deliberately messy and becomes a hilarious entire group performance. The performance keeps us hooked throughout with a constant flow of one liners and surprises, such as the entire cast suddenly parading down the aisle.

The operatic skill of the cast simply cannot be faulted as each character silences the entire theatre, especially quiet for an enchanting harmony between Rosa and Drood, but equally the case for all characters, from wonderfully pompous, snarling Jasper to cockney Angela, a loveable opium pusher who makes individuals squirm with her sharp, tongue in cheek humour and simultaneously sympathise with her through a biographical solo. However, the pitch perfect tones does not put the acting to shame at all, as we are often left wondering if an action is a genuine slip that’s been expertly improvised or just extremely well executed humour.

The production ends with a spin, as the characters all stop talking at the exact point Dickens put down his pen, and leave it to us to decide the ending – of which there are over 400 possibilities. Once we vote numbers and cheer competitively for our desired Detector and Murderer of Drood, we can then choose a pair of lovers unrelated to the plot, which saw, for this particular showing, rough around the edges Angela being paired with Mr Phillips and his loveable weediness. All the craziness and fun is then rounded off with some tap dancing, just for good measure, to show this is a true triple-threat of a cast.

Riona Doherty

@rionadoherty

The Student, Edinburgh, 2013

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