by Santiago Mallan of H-B Woodlawn
The immortal master of the Victorian epic, Charles Dickens, left many mysteries in his wake after his passing in 1870. Perhaps the greatest among them was his unfinished novel, a winding and darkly funny story of small-town intrigue. Scholars have argued over what the outcome might have been for more than a century. So what is the mystery? Woodgrove High School, with the help of a participatory audience, sets out to answer that question in their production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
This musical adaptation, written in 1985, is a highly unconventional show. For one thing, the audience decides by vote the identity of the murderer, making for a plethora of possible endings and twists. Additionally, the play takes inspiration from Victorian-era music hall traditions; it features a huge amount of fourth-wall breaks and audience interactions.
For example, the play itself is introduced and narrated by “The Chairman of the Music Hall Royale” (played by Woodgrove’s Wyatt Ellerbeck) who has the arduous task of introducing each character and keeping their “actors” in check. Ellerbeck does an admirable job with this challenging role, switching seamlessly between a character in the narrative and the fictional director of the production.
Woodgrove’s production features a number of standout actors and actresses. From the first scene, Dillon Douglasson (in the role of Drood’s uncle, John Jasper) asserts himself as a powerful vocalist and dynamic actor, capturing the turmoil of his character with remarkable finesse. Drood himself was played by Clare King, who provided a convincing performance as the Music Hall Royale’s premiere “male impersonator”. Drood’s fiancée, Rosa Bud, was portrayed with ladylike grace and a subtle ferocity by Madeleine Goggin. Josh Wilk and Molly Warndorf as the exotic and over-the-top Neville and Helena Landless were fan favorites, stealing hilarious faces to the audience at every opportunity. Caroline Roden took on the opium queen Princess Puffer with a commanding stage presence and unparalleled, heartbreaking vocals. Finally, Sarah Rector as the bumbling cockney gravedigger Durdles provided riotous comic relief with masterful timing that reminds one of Charlie Chaplin in “The Kid”.
This play is a challenging undertaking to say the least, but Woodgrove faces it well. The set was dynamic and transitions well-oiled; the sound and lighting handled without a hitch. The voting aspect, while inherently hectic and difficult to manage, worked very well and did not distract too much from the show itself.
All in all, Woodgrove High School’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood makes for a raucous night of mystery and laughter that audience members won’t soon forget.