By Pauline Smith
Shannon Foley as the Chairman and Zach Price as Clive Paget who plays John Jasper. Photo: Kenn Santos / PIF Photography
The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Book, music, lyrics and orchestration by Rupert Holmes
Directed by Scott Ellis
Presented by Phonenix Ensemble
Season: May 7-29. Duration: two hours thirty minutes including interval. Bookings: https://www.trybooking.com/book/sessions?eid=715147 phoenixensemble.com.au or phone (07) 3103 1546
The Mystery of Edwin Drood was a ripsnorter of a musical, with full on audience participation. It is set in the Victorian era in a music hall in London and is based on the unfinished novel by Charles Dickens. As was traditional of the times, the cast members are circulating and speaking to audience members as they take a seat, in the hopes of scoring a ‘patron’ for the night.
The opening number of There You Are was sung by the Chairman (Shannon Foley) who sets the scenes, introduces each cast member with aplomb as they appear for the first time, and guides the audience through the labyrinth of clues and red herrings. Each cast member has two characters (their stage name and their character name), for instance, the likely villain for the night (played by Zach Price) is Clive Paget who plays John Jasper. This made for a very lively and interesting portrayal of the story as the Victorian actors tell the story of Edwin Drood and attempt to solve the mystery.
Act One tells the story as written by Charles Dickens up to the point he had penned before his death. Edwin Drood (Alice Nutting, a well-known actress who does male impersonations – Carly Wilson) is the nephew of the previously mentioned John Jasper. Drood is engaged to the fair Rosa Bud (Deidre Peregrine – Hayley Marsh). Bud’s mother died when she was six and she has been living at the Conservatory of the Nun’s House. Bud is also Jasper’s music pupil and the object of his mad obsession.
Reverend Crisparkle (Cedric Moncrieffe – Andrew McArthur) arrives with two new charges from Ceylon, Helena and Neville Landless (Janet Canaver – AJ Betts and Victor Grinstead – Puawai Herewini). Landless and Drood immediately take a disliking to each other.
Jasper’s forays to London to get his ‘special wine’ for his condition involve regular visits to the opium den run by Princess Puffer (Angela Prysack – Carolyn Latter). We are also introduced to the drunken stonemason Durdles (Nick Cricket – Tristan Ham) and his assistant, Deputy (Nick Cricket Jnr – Kohen Arstall). There is also Mayor Sapsea of Cloisterham (which when pronounced sounded very much like a medical procedure). This part was also played by the Chairman, as the ‘actor’ had not turned up.
Foley and Price were brilliantly cast, and this was more than obvious in the song Both Sides of the Coin which was perfectly in sync with exceptionally quick lyrics. And then they sped it up a bit more. There was also a lot of counterpoint in some of the songs, none more so than No Good Can Come from Bad, where 6 counterpoints came into play.
Act One finishes with a minor character, Bazzard, (Philip Bar – William Chen) opining the fact that he only gets minor parts and would like to do something more.
The orchestra was incorporated as part of the play, and was led ably by Musical Director, Benjamin Tubb-Hearne, who was also on keyboard. The choreography (Storm Fraser) was so well done, time appropriate and was ably performed by an energetic cast.
Act Two is where the fun really begins from the audience’s point of view as they are asked to vote on three questions: Who will be our Detective? Who will be our Murderer? And Who will be our Lovers? Once this is decided then the ‘actors’ play out the conclusion, with the audience being unaware of who the murderer is until it is time to reveal. The Lovers vote comes after the final reveal as there cannot be an unhappy ending, can there?
This musical is so hilarious with wisecracks, jokes that work, jokes that fall like a lead balloon (which were funny in themselves), and the looks from the ‘actors’ at the audience, as well as the other story which plays out behind the musical on stage. The screeches of laughter from the audience were testament to a well-acted performance.
I really liked every performer on stage, right down to those I have not even mentioned here as they all added colour and interest to Drood’s story. If I had to pick a favourite, it would be Shannon Foley as the Chairman, followed closely by William Chen (Bazzard). The Chairman ‘held’ the whole proceedings together, interacted with the audience the whole way through and assisted with the voting and generally told one bad joke after another. Chen was so expressive as the poor underdog, Bazzard, winning the audience’s heart over.
The stage was beautifully appointed as an old-time musical hall, changing ‘face’ to different scenes seamlessly. The costumes were bright and colourful.
I thoroughly enjoyed this musical. Thank you, Phoenix, for a great night out. If you want to know whodunnit – head long to the Tin Shed and find out for yourself.