Witty commentaries, a murder mystery, and a welcoming community theatre spirit are what’s in store if you head along to Malvern Theatre Company’s production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The final novel by Charles Dickens, which was left unfinished at the time of his death in 1870, has had an overwhelming success on the stage since its adaptation from novel to musical. Directed by Alan Burrows, this show was a successful production, which has many aspects to be proud of. Before even entering the theatre all patrons were warmly welcomed by the front of house staff and treated to complimentary drinks at the bar. The foyer was buzzing with a fantastic vibe prior to the show and set it off with a marvelous atmosphere for what was to come on the production’s opening night.
Upon entering the theatre, the audience were met by a gorgeous set and a rowdy and hilarious group of performers warming up and preparing for the show. Soon after the show began the audience was then greeted by the Chairman (Peter Maver). The Chairman guided viewers through the entirety of the performance and introduced them to the many characters in the story and ensured they were following along by providing key plot points and character relationship information. Maver delivered an absolutely lovable performance as the Chairman and was one of the most entertaining members of the company. With introductions to all the cast out of the way, the audience is given an insight as to the interaction of all the characters and their daily lives, trials and tribulations. This occurs until Drood disappears and the investigation into his mysterious withdrawal begins. Suspects are presented to the audience and they are then able to vote as to who they believe is the murderer (if there actually has been a murder) and who really is the stealthy investigator Dick Datchery.
Christine Andrew also delivered an outstanding performance all round in her role as Princess Puffer. In particular, Andrew had stunning vocals, which filled the theatre with rich and unfaltering sound, as was well appreciated by the audience with the loud and rapturous applause she received each time she was on stage. “The Wages of Sin” was particularly exceptional, and Andrew is only one example of excellent casting on the part of the production team. Special mention also goes to Luke McShane who gave another stand out performance in his role as The Deputy and an ensemble member. McShane gave great enthusiasm and energy to his performances that drew the audience’s eye every time he appeared on stage. Overall, all principals and ensemble member performances were at high level and despite a few lyrics and line muddle ups, they rarely faltered.
Costumes and set were delightful and were completely complementary of one another. Many hours of work had obviously gone into choosing the right outfits for each character and each of their appearances within the show. The set was appropriate for the show and worked incredibly well in the intimate space. Lighting design had some interesting visual moments particularly in solo numbers however for most of the group scenes and ensemble numbers lighting was quite basic. It also didn’t help that some performers missed their mark and were therefore out of light when they were performing in the auditorium. Performers did not use microphones and this wasn’t regularly an issue in line delivery or vocals however some performers did struggle to project as well as others and as a result the audience missed some information and struggled to decipher what the character had said or sung.
Direction was thoughtful and well-constructed and only very rarely confusing action took place on stage. One moment when this was noted was during Rosa Budd’s (Lauren McCormack) music lesson with John Jasper (Andrew Pennycuick). Pennycuick in his role as John Jasper was preparing to exit the scene and picked up the sheet music he had written for Rosa. After saying his final line he then put it down an exited. It’s unclear as to why this happened and whether or not this was directed or a random path of action that actor had chosen or merely executed on the night but it did strike me as odd. Only a few moments of this uncertainty were noted but as a whole the show was well directed and action was logical and interesting to watch. Musical direction was wonderful and all ensemble numbers in particular were really well performed and directed. The music had a real life about it, which was largely due to the musical direction and the fact that the band and company worked incredibly well together.
Choreography was quite basic and lacked a little spark for my tastes. Burrows doubled as Choreographer with ensemble member Zoe Flood taking on the role of Assistant Choreographer. Choreography was the only element that I thought needed a little more work in terms of movement structure and also execution from the cast. However, I did enjoy the choreography and delivery in “Both Sides of the Coin” which appeared in the middle of Act I.
Apart from the opening number of the show, the highlight for me was most definitely the “Off to the Races” number which was lively and brilliantly delivered by cast and band.
Stage management and technical operation were executed well and apart from the desire for one spotlight pick up to be dimmed slightly to blend into the lighting design for the song/scene I felt that cues for both sound and lighting were completed in a timely fashion and scene changes were executed very quickly and smoothly.
Overall, The Mystery of Edwin Drood was a solid production of a good show that suited the theatre company, community and audience. As a fellow thespian and regular theatregoer I thoroughly enjoyed the show and my guest who had never seen a performance before left with a smile on his face and many pleasant things to say about the nights entertainment.
Definitely recommend getting down to Malvern Theatre Company to see this show before it closes.
The season runs from Friday August 21st to Saturday September 5th. More information available at http://www.malverntheatre.com.au/current-and-future-shows/