‘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

‘Scottish Heritage Shines Through on Fashion Catwalk’

Bouncing back for its 13th year as the most successful student-run charity fashion show in Europe, Edinburgh Charity Fashion Show (ECFS) this year reigns in patriotic prestige, far from the fashion week glamour of London, Paris, New York and Milan.

This year the ECFS team decided to choose a theme close to home, with the concept throughout being ‘This Is Edinburgh’, drawing upon its history, architecture and weather (yes, the choice to honour WaterAid as this year’s charity was no coincidence). Few venues could be more fitting, then, than the National Museum of Scotland – the securing of which easily being the show’s biggest feat yet. Ticket-holders flooded in to the sold-out show, held in the museum’s Grand Gallery with elegant overarching white pillars and high windows shrouded in violet light, perfectly setting the tone of elegance for the evening. The show itself moulds completely into the museum, for instance the extensive catwalk space encasing the Gallery’s centrepiece, a regal green cast iron drinking fountain, perfectly. A live band provides upbeat background music while guests chatter and laugh melodically amongst themselves, before chairwoman Safoora Biglari is welcomed onto the stage by the evening’s charismatic presenter, and we are all shown videos reminding us why we are here, reminding us of all the amazing work WaterAid do.

And the clothes? As one might assume, given the theme, the spectacular show kicked off with what is arguably the most recognisable and classic Scottish fashion: tartan. Indeed, the first male outfit we see is a classic red tartan kilt, and the first female ensemble a spidery, gothic grey dress worn with a veil. This gothic theme continues to be prominent in the first half, as a symbol of perhaps a more ‘classic’ Edinburgh, but is quickly contrasted with the bright, summery clothes that follow – cobalt blues and daffodil yellows are brought together in androgynous masculine suit ensembles worn by the female models, including a particularly memorable yellow blazer and cropped ruched trouser combination. This is presented alongside bright blue t-shirt dresses, always keeping the clothes from becoming too feminine. Then, however, comes the lace. Continuing the block colour theme in a more feminine fashion, the audience cast their eyes over delicate but loose floor length dresses with baggy t-shirt sleeves, bright pink lace kimonos, apple green blouses and orange football shirt-style dresses.

The more classic theme then returns towards the end of the first half, showcasing the male models in tweed suits, deftly posing with books at the end of the runway while being cheered on by fellow students. Timeless tweed is given a contemporary update with backpacks and bright pops of colour peeking from underneath. Female models go business-like in brilliant white suits with plummeting necklines, contrasting black and white broderie anglaise style shirts and Vogue-office-suitable blazers, many of which teamed with bright red tartan socks poking out over white or translucent shoes, constantly reminding us of the show’s theme and Edinburgh’s influence.

After the ruthless auction has been completed in the interval and many spectators have had a glass of restorative champagne, we return to the show. Given the focus on Edinburgh’s weather, it is no surprise that the second half got very wet, featuring models making a splash in contemporary chic black and white swimwear teamed with oversized tote bags and two-pieces bearing loud statements such as ‘OVER’ emblazoned on the back of a pair of cotton shorts. The long hair of the models is damp and natural, making for a true laid-back, surfer look – this may seem an unrealistic inclusion for a theme based around Edinburgh, but we are reminded to think of Edinburgh’s beautiful

beaches. The boys aren’t quite as bold, bringing a Hilfiger-esque vibe to the end of the show in neutral loose crisp shirts, aviators, preppy, navy sailor like blazers and equally as oversized totes as the ladies. After a few more plunging swimsuits and over-the-shoulder sweaters, the show ends on a summery note, with models showcasing the final sundresses and sweater-shorts combinations, before erupting into an on-catwalk party, pulling up members of the audience to Luther Vandross – Never Too Much; an apt choice for Edinburgh’s one charity event that the public just can’t get enough of. Edinburgh Charity Fashion Show is so much more than a mere fashion show, showcasing trends – it’s a fashion show, a charity fundraiser and a great night out all in one. A true triple threat of an event that will only be moving onto to even bigger, even better things.

Riona Doherty

@rionadoherty

The Student, Edinburgh, 2014

Dark Road Review

Dark Road

The Royal Lyceum Theatre

Ian Rankin

★★★★1/2

Exhibiting his script writing skills for the first time, Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin, best known for his Inspector Rebus novels, launches the Lyceum Theatre’s Autumn season with gripping psychological thriller Dark Road. Inspired by director Mark Thomson’s initial pitch “Why do we never see detective stories on the stage?”, Rankin ensures the “detective story” plays out far more thrillingly on stage than what we so often see in books and on television – and his transition from novel to stage writing only strengthens his flair for suspense.

Maureen Beattie plays Scotland’s first female Chief Superintendent Isobel McArthur, a powerful protagonist who struggles to balance her commitment to her demanding career with her equally demanding daughter Alex. What at first seems a supportive and inspiring relationship rapidly becomes a ruthless career race when both mother and daughter find themselves fighting for the chance to profit from psychotic and infamous murderer Alfred Chalmers who, though jailed for twenty-five years, is believed to be innocent by both women. However, the digging up of the long buried trial of his supposedly murdering four young girls infects the McArthur household like a virus, pushing Alex to run away and Isobel to self-destruction.

Beattie simply cannot be faulted as the lead, simultaneously portraying strong career woman, a pushover of a mother and nervous wreck. Philip Whitchurch’s portrayal of Chalmers is chillingly unhinged, with dialogue always perfectly located between a desperate plea and a snarling warning; it is impossible to take your eyes off of him on stage, almost in fear. Sara Vickers’ depiction of eighteen year old Alex seems confused between focused student and sex-obsessed train wreck – the latter being the less believable and, whilst declaring her love for sex so impudently to her mother provokes much laughter, these outbursts sometimes seem out of character. However, her character brings a lightness and also makes the play more appealing to younger audience members. Likewise, Isobel’s co-worker and old flame Frank Bowman (played by Robert Gwilym) causes hysterics with witty one liners and engages us with how he challenges Isobel.

Aesthetically, the set is comparable to the West End, with the play being set in only three rooms the designers have been able to toy with the rotating stage effect. This allows the stage to be split at various points but most prominently in the final scene – a simple but striking split scene featuring both mother and daughter on the receiving end of life-endangering threats. Even between scene changes, we are constantly kept on the edge of our seats with eerie background music and explicit newspaper clippings of Chalmers’ victims projected onto the stage. Much suspense, laughter and jaw-dropping shock make Dark Road the perfect night at the theatre, but despite all of this, nothing can prepare the audience for the finale’s shocking twist – one of the many reasons for the four rounds of gracious bows taken at the end.

Riona Doherty

@rionadoherty

The Student, Edinburgh, 2013