Eight days without a trip to the theatre and we were getting withdrawal symptoms, playing Patti Lupone’s Gypsy on repeat with Bernadette Peters’ Into The Woods DVD on mute in the background. To alleviate the cold turkey and give our neighbours a break, we took ourselves down to Clapham to see what delights the Landor was serving up with this new production of Rupert Holmes musicalisation of Charles Dickens’ famously unfinished final novel.
The Landor never seems to put a foot wrong and they manage to keep a 100% strike rate with this riotous romp. The central conceit being that we are watching a Victorian music hall company staging the show. There is plenty of audience participation from the moment we step into the auditorium, but none of it cruel, simply teasing interaction with the cast, joining in songs and choosing the outcome of the proceedings.
Overseeing the evening in the dual roles of music hall chairman and mayor of Cloisterham, where the action occurs, is Denis Delahunt who is the perfect mixture of sauce and gravitas and soldiers on gamely through an unscripted 5 minute power cut.
Edwin Drood, a male impersonation by Natalie Day, is betrothed to Rosa Budd, a tremendous Victoria Farley, who initially appears fragile but has a steely resolve. Rosa is lusted after by Drood’s uncle John Jasper, a powerhouse turn from Daniel Robinson, a handsome tenor with a split personality. Jasper has a secret opium addiction fuelled by Princess Puffer, a sensational Wendi Peters with a terrific singing voice, magnificent comic acting and the most awesome décolletage I have ever witnessed in such close proximity.
Throw in a pair of enigmatic twins newly arrived from Ceylon, a bumbling vicar and a couple of grave diggers and, as Drood disappears on a stormy Christmas Eve, we the audience get to decide whodunnit, as it was never revealed by Dickens, who took the answer to the mystery to his grave.
With tongues placed firmly in their cheeks, the entire cast lead us enthusiastically through the drama with witty tuneful songs and the best choreography that I have ever seen in a fringe theatre, all credit to director Matthew Gould. “Both Sides of the Coin” was quite simply one the best staged numbers I have ever seen anywhere. The costumes, by Jean Grey, are great and the simple set of blood red drapes, voile curtains and occasional monochrome screens sets the tone perfectly. The impressive five piece band manages to sound like an entire orchestra, how one trumpet and one clarinet transform into a whole brass and woodwind section is beyond me.
I defy anyone not to be won over by the charms of this infectiously funny two hours of Victorian melodrama with a winning company and production values worthy of the West End. If you need cheering up, get thee down to what is rapidly turning into my favourite winter venue (look out Regent’s Park, you may have a contender come the summer).
Booking until 5 May 2012, an infectiously riotous romp - The Mystery of Edwin Drood