Review – The Mystery of Edwin Drood – The Landor

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What? I thought I was going to a musical, but walking up the stairs at the Landor I found myself in a music hall! I didn’t think I was at Wiltons! Only … it seemed like the spirit of Wiltons from ages gone by, with dapper chappies chatting me up as I walked out up the stairs, and hosts of flirtatious hostesses in non-specific Victorian garb flouncing on the landing. Just what was this “Mystery of Edwin Drood” going to be about?

I’d heard about it before, of course. It’s a well known flop musical, recently highlighted in Blink and You Missed It, celebrated in musical fanatics trivia nights as “the one where the audience chooses the ending” (I had kind of forgotten about that). It is, actually, the kind of think you really want to see so you can say you have done it. And, if you think about it, given that it’s the 200 anniversary of Dicken’s birth, it’s probably time to revive this less commonly performed musical – a good way to round out events like the big exhibit at the London Docklands Museum.

Anyway, so there I was in the (rather empty) hall of the Landor, and we were having a singalonga! What fun! I’m not sure to what extent this is called for in the script, but I loved it. We’d been handed out song sheets, and I joined right in singing “Champagne Charlie,” “And Her Golden Hair Was Falling Down Her Back,” and “The Boy I Love Is Up in the Gallery.” We got a chance to meet the cast (of the “Music Hall Royale”) while the band (five or so people) kept the energy levels up, and the flirting and audience interaction continued. I admit I’d had a drink or so before the show began and I was in quite high spririts by the time we actually got serious about doing the musical.

As the show played out, we had a narrator who explained things to us, such as providing background about Dickens (“and then he died after writing this chapter”), the book itself (“this character appears in the second half”) and the show (“note the clue in that last sentence”). What with him introducing the various performers, the whole thing had an aura of extreme unreality – the old trope of watching a show about a show. We got to hear about backstage quarrels, egos, speciality performances, and the kinds of enticements that could get favors from the more attractive ladies in the cast.

Between all of this, unfortunately, there was rather a pile of shockingly forgettable music. I kept track of the songs: “Moonfall,” “Off to the Races,” “Jasper’s Confession” – but they just seemed to fall into the dustbin where unmemorable melodies. (What a difference from The Drowsy Chaperone!) Was the composer attempting a fashionable style of dullness? I can at least say that “The Garden Path to Hell” had a fair amount of funny lyrics, but … well, I DO like my musicals to be tuneful. Alas.

Counterbalancing this was a bucketload of zippy performances, amongst which I must single out Wendi Peters as Princess Puffer/Miss Angela Prysock – she leaves Elaine Paige in the dust as a diva to be reckoned with! – and David Francis, as the shockingly overacted Neville Landless (you really just had to laugh about it, especially with that much eyeliner). Finally, while Paul Hutton overacted shockingly as Durdles/Mr Nick Cricker, I loved his stage presence so much I voted or him as the lover (the audience chooses this as well as the murderer, and the detective) just so I could see him on stage again. Was he Miss Rosa Budd (Victoria Farley)’s chosen paramour per Dickens? Well, it was all being done for our amusement, and this louche Cockney was just the ticket for a saucy wedding. My only real regret: given my druthers, Helena Landless (Loula Geater) would have been the one to take that crown.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday April 17th, 2012. It continues through May 5th. While my ticket was free, this much energy for only 18 quid seems like a very good deal.)

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