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The Mystery of Edwin Drood at the Bridewell Theatre

This marvellous production demonstrates beyond doubt that the depth of talent we have in London is astonishing. Sedos (the Stock Exchange Dramatic and Operatic Society, founded in 1905) have put together a show of West End quality. The self-confidence, versatility and sheer joy of performing shown by every cast member is inspiring and uplifting. With very limited resources they turn minuses into pluses, overcome every challenge with aplomb and deliver entertainment with an unmatched joie de vivre.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood - Credit Stephen Russell.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood – Credit Stephen Russell.

Director Mark Siddall has revived the 1986 Broadway musical sensation The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Rupert Holmes. The Mystery of Edwin Drood will forever remain just that because Dickens died having written only six of the twelve-monthly parts. So we will never know the full story of the mystery. This production takes that and turns it on its head by inviting the audience to decide the ending. The first part of the show up to the interval gives us, as it were, the novel as Dickens left it. After the interval the audience and cast vote on possible outcomes. This works surprisingly well as we are invited to decide on the plot. Is Edwin Drood dead? If so, who killed him? These questions are decided by the audience and then the cast take it on from there.

The show is a delightful mash-up of Vicwardian musical hall, penny dreadful melodrama, the BBC’s The Good Old Days, Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (the latter is particularly appropriate as the Bridewell Theatre is just 50 metres south of Fleet Street). The setting for all this is The Music Hall Royale presided over by the chairman and master of ceremonies Mr William Cartwright in handlebar moustache. Mark Smith is absolutely brilliant in this role. It’s a show-within-a-show that throws up many intriguing nuances and complexities which Mark playing William, known as Bill, adroitly navigates. We are with him all the way as we see him dealing with tantrums and walkouts, late arrivals and wrong costumes. Through it all, he never loses his humour or temper. His use of the aside to the audience whilst still in character is superb. He is one of those totally believable actors whom audiences just warm to. He has a wonderful voice that embodies all the Dickensian resonances which have come down to us.

The creative team of Mark Siddall, Music Director Issie Osborne and Choreographer Tim Garrad deserve a mention. They have worked wonders. A music hall is suggested by a simple red curtain coupled with a bandstand for the orchestra and a gas lamp. In this way, the different settings (Cloisterham, the sinister Cathedral, Shadwell the opium den and graveyard) are conjured up both by one or two props and by our own imagination. Watch out for the use of a white sheet and lamp to create a scary silent silhouette scene. The dance routines are highly polished. The orchestral range is outstanding and the singing is top-notch. Tess Robinson as Miss Angela Prysock/Princess Puffer gives a master class in comic acting, singing and stage presence in her solos The Wages of Sin, The Garden Path to Hell and Puffer’s Revelation, complete with opium pipe tucked in her waistband. Chris Foxwell makes a convincing uncle villain as Mr Clive Paget/ John Jasper. His Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde split is brilliantly evoked in A Man Could Go Quite Mad. His nephew Edwin Drood is portrayed by the superb Kate Gledhill, or the premiere female male impersonator Miss Alice Nutting. As I said it’s a show-within-a-show so the layers can get quite perplexing at times but delightfully so. These two kinsmen Drood and Jasper are rivals for the hand of Miss Deirdre Peregrine/ Rosa Bud (the coy not coy, tremendously knowing Jessie Davidson).

Whilst the show hints at the darker side of the novel (the opium den in Shadwell, the who dun-nit plot) it is predominantly a vehicle for a good time. So wit, humour, visual gags, slapstick, double entendres, puns and pranks are the order of the day. There are send-ups of the empire A British Subject, England Reigns. Feel good numbers There You Are, Off To The Races and much else besides. It would be hard to improve on this. Catch it if you can.

4 stars

Review by John O’Brien

This wildly warm-hearted theatrical experience kicks off when the Music Hall Royale (a hilariously raucous Victorian musical troupe) “puts on” its flamboyant rendition of an unfinished Dickens mystery in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The story itself deals with John Jasper, a Jekyll-and-Hyde choirmaster who is quite madly in love with his music student, the fair Miss Rosa Bud. Now, Miss Bud is, in turn, engaged to Jasper’s nephew, young Edwin Drood.

Our title character disappears mysteriously one stormy Christmas Eve – but has Edwin Drood been murdered? And if so, then whodunnit? YOU, the audience has the power to affect the outcome, so the show can be different at every performance!

CAST
MR WILLIAM CARTWRIGHT, CHAIRMAN | Mark Smith
MR CLIVE PAGET as JOHN JASPER | Chris Foxwell
MISS ALICE NUTTING as EDWIN DROOD | Kate Gledhill
MISS DEIRDRE PEREGRINE as ROSA BUD | Jessie Davidson
MISS ANGELA PRYSOCK as THE PRINCESS PUFFER | Louise Roberts
MISS JANET CONOVER as HELENA LANDLESS | Sara Rajeswaran
MR VICTOR GRINSTEAD as NEVILLE LANDLESS | Shilpan Patel
MR CEDRIC MONCRIEFFE as THE REVEREND CRISPARKLE | Sam Sugarman
MR PHILLIP BAX as BAZZARD | Jonathan Scott
MR NICK CRICKER as DURDLES | Daniel Saunders
MASTER NICK CRICKER as DEPUTY | Polly Beaumont
MR JAMES THROTTLE, COMPANY MANAGER | Keith Walters
MR CHRISTOPHER LYON as HORACE | Leon Grozdanovic
MISS FLORENCE GILL as FLO | Ruth Granton
MISS ISABEL YEARSLEY as WENDY | Sadie Kempner
MISS VIOLET BALFOUR as BEATRICE | Tess Robinson

CREATIVE TEAM
DIRECTOR | Mark Siddall
MUSICAL DIRECTOR | Issie Osborne
CHOREOGRAPHER / ASSISTANT DIRECTOR | Tim Garrad
PRODUCER | Ben Hussey
STAGE MANAGER | Emma J Leaver
LIGHTING DESIGN | Shiri Stern
SOUND DESIGN | Henry Whittaker
COSTUME DESIGN | Frederica Byron

The Mystery of Edwin Drood
A Musical by RUPERT HOLMES
A hilarious musical whodunit
22-26 MARCH 2022
https://sedos.co.uk/

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  • John OBrien

    JOHN O’BRIEN born in London in 1960 is a born and bred Londoner. His mother was an illiterate Irish traveller. His early years were spent in Ladbroke Grove. He was born at number 40 Lancaster Road. In 1967 the family was rehoused in Hackney. He attended Brooke House School for Boys in Clapton, - as did Lord Sugar. He became head boy and was the first person in his family to make it to university, gaining a place at Goldsmiths College in 1978. He took a degree in Sociology and a PGCE . From 1982 until 1993 he taught at schools in Hackney and Richmond. In 1984-85 he attended Bristol University where he gained a Diploma in Social Administration. From 1985 until 1989 he studied part-time in the evenings for a degree in English Literature at Birkbeck College. He stayed on at Birkbeck from 1990-1992 to study for an MA in Modern English Literature. He left teaching in 1993 and has worked as a tutor, researcher, writer and tour guide. He leads bespoke guided tours on London’s history, art , architecture and culture. He has attended numerous courses at Oxford University - Exeter College, Rewley House & Kellogg College. In London, he attends courses at Gresham College, The National Gallery, The British Museum, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, The British Academy and The Royal Society. Read the latest London theatre reviews by all reviewers.

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