Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

28/03/2015 - 25/04/2015

Production Details

Wellington to host premiere season of spectacular mystery musical 

One cast. Three mysteries. Dozens of possible endings. 

Wellington’s Circa theatre is preparing to present its most ambitious production yet – Rupert Holmes’ groundbreaking Broadway hit The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Based on an unfinished novel by Charles Dickens, the vibrant, vivacious Victoriana musical murder-mystery will spend four weeks at Wellington’s beloved waterfront theatre this autumn; the first time the Tony Award-winning work has been professionally performed in New Zealand. Featuring some of the country’s brightest theatrical luminaries, a joyous chorus of exciting up-and-coming talent, and visionary designers and technicians, The Mystery of Edwin Drood promises to be nothing short of spectacular.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood cast includes Lloyd Scott, Judith Gibson, Awhimai Fraser, Barbara Graham and Gavin Rutherford. 

Director Lyndee-Jane Rutherford (Mamma-Mia!, Midsummer – A Play With Songs, The ImpoSTAR) is thrilled to be leading a production of this scale and spectacle. “It’s a huge, full-to-the-brim, extravaganza of a sho,w” she says. “Pure entertainment. I’m smitten with The Mystery of Edwin Drood because it packs in so much – big, beautiful musical numbers, hilarious characters, magic, mystery, history… all within a really smart story, a really clever conceit. It’s so much fun.” 

Welcomed into the Music Hall Royale by its resident theatrical troupe, your host for the evening is the affable and ebullient Chairman, who acknowledges the inconvenient dramaturgical problem presented by Dickens’ untimely demise and explains the cast’s solution: when the right moment arrives, you and your fellow audience members will be asked to vote to decide upon a detective, a villain and a pair of lovers. Only then can your finale unfold. 

To play the larger-than-life characters, Lyndee-Jane has assembled a superb company of performers, including Lloyd Scott (star of radio, screen and stage), internationally renowned soprano Barbara Graham, and top local actors Gavin Rutherford and Judith Gibson. The production also boasts the incredible talent and energy from students of Whitireia’s School of Performing Arts. 

The on-stage talent is supported by the best in the biz behind the scenes, including the 2014 Chapman Tripp award-winner for Service to Theatre Deb McGuire (Technical Operation), the genius expertise of Michael Nicholas Williams (Musical Direction), Leigh Evans, one of New Zealand’s foremost choreographers and dance tutors, and exquisite visions from the incomparable Ian Harman (Production Design).

This production is a must-see event for all visitors to the Capital this April. Consistently award-winning, Circa Theatre prides itself on presenting some of Wellington’s highest quality professional theatre. Yet even within the high standard expected from this Wellington institution, anticipation for The Mystery of Edwin Drood is building at a fever pitch. With a full bar on-site and the wonderful in-house restaurant Encore, visitors to Circa can enjoy spending the whole evening on Wellington’s waterfront, especially when a full-scale Broadway hit musical is on offer!

For Wellingtonians, The Mystery of Edwin Drood promises all the slick theatricality you’d expect from a Circa show, but on a scale never seen before. “When I talk to my colleagues and whanau about this show, they can’t help but get really, really excited” says Lyndee-Jane. “It’s unique; a huge, beautiful, extravagant Broadway experience, demanding really high production values, but no-one – not me, not the cast, not the audience –  no-one has any idea which way the ending’s going to go until we get there. Performers, crew and audience are all along for the ride together. It’s going to be a blast.”

So who the Dickens did the deed? Join us at New Zealand’s premiere professional season of The Mystery of Edwin Drood and decide for yourself! 

Dates: 28 March-25 April 2015 
VENUE: Circa Theatre 1 Taranaki Street, Te Aro, Wellington

Mr William Cartwright, Chairman:  Gavin Rutherford
Miss Alice Nutting (playing Edwin Drood & Dick Datchery):  Awhimai Fraser
Miss Deirdre Peregrin (playing Rosa Bud):  Barbara Graham
Mr Clive Paget (playing John Jasper):  Jack Buchannan
Miss Angela Prysock (playing the Princess Puffer):  Jude Gibson
Mr Cedric Moncrieffe (playing The Reverend Crisparkle):  Lloyd Scott
Mr Victor Grinstead (playing Neville Landless):  Ben Paterson
Miss Janet Conover (playing Helena Landless):  Flora Lloyd 
Mr Phillip Bax (playing Bazzard & the Waiter):  Alan Palmer 
Mr Nick Cricker (playing Durdles):  Andy Gartrell
Master Nick Cricker (playing the Deputy):  Frankie Curd
Alexandra Taylor, Auburn Crombie, Brontë Fitzgibbon, Charli Gartrell, Charlotte Tausilia, Ella Monnery, Gemma Hughes, Georgie Sullivan, Hamiora Tuari, Hannah McMillan, India Loveday, (Horris) Jonathan Harris, Juliane Bush, (Flo) Kaylee Morrison; Konrad Makisi, Rebecca Tate, Ruairi Costelloe, Taylor Salton, Vanessa Immink, Wiremu Waretine

Set/ Costume design:  Ian Harman 
Lighting Design:  Lisa Maule   
Sound design/operator:  Blair Godby 
Sound design/operator:  Oliver Buckley 
Lighting Operator:  Deb McGuire 
Stage Manager:  Eric Gardiner 
Whitireia Musical Theatre course coordinator:  Amy Tait 
Publicity:  Nell Williams 
Publicity intern:  Ben Emerson

Theatre , Musical ,

A wild, funny and frivolous spectacle

Review by Jonathan Kingston-Smith and Pepe Becker 29th Mar 2015

There are, in fact, many mysteries in this tale of Edwin Drood and the cast of lechers, ‘exotics’, opium-dealers, Classical singers, clergymen and general miscreants that surround ‘him’. Not least of all is the one intrinsic to the work itself. This musical is based upon Charles Dickens’ final novel. Unfortunately Dickens did something really inconvenient for literary history before he set pen to paper on the final pages of this manuscript.  He died. And left not a clue as to how the thing was to end – not even notes scribbled in a margins or scrawled on bits of paper.

Well, worry not, because the man who asked us all, through the medium of a relentlessly popular song, if we liked Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain – Rupert Holmes – also transformed this incomplete novel into a boisterous, bold and thoroughly self-aware Victorian-style music hall romp, with an ingenious means of determining what that final reveal might have been. So… expect a little audience participation, but not so much that you need baulk at it, if that’s not your thing. 

Our guide through the evening’s festivities is the magnificent Chairman of the Music Hall Royale – part master of ceremonies, part thespot (it’s one of my theatre companion’s portmanteau words that I promised myself I would try to smuggle into public lexicon) – Gavin Rutherford. His previous tenure as a pantomime dame serves him well as he displays an easy camaraderie with the audience and adroitly negotiates his consistently involved and involving expository role. In a charming meta-twist he takes the stage himself after one of the actors proves to be… ahem, ‘indisposed’.

It is via Rutherford that we are ushered into this tangled, fangled and mangled world: a play cocooned within a play, where the actors all play actors playing various characters, with all the ridiculousness that implies. Thus we are treated to bouts of extravagant coarse acting, diva storm-outs and an endlessly amusing gag wherein the actor is introduced midway through their character’s opening scene, leading them to break continuity and mug charmingly at the audience, before resuming their dramatic moment as if nothing had occurred. The fourth wall isn’t so much broken as exploded.

The story itself… 

Edwin Drood is a young man – played with spirited androgyny and brashness by Awhimai Fraser (as legendary trouser-role actress Alice Nutting) – betrothed from childhood to the lovely Rosa Bud (a vocally-opulent and delightful performance from Barbara Graham, as Deidre Peregrine). Alas, Rosa Bud has also become a romantic target for the skin-quiveringly slimy John Jasper, her musical instructor (played by the affable and swoonsome Clive Paget, who in turn is played by Jack Buchanan). His intentions for her are quite unwholesome as depicted in a truly hilarious scene wherein Bud is forced to deliver, with increasing discomfort, a sexually-explicit (well, by Victorian standards) aria whilst he accompanies her on piano (cleverly mimed to Michael Nicholas Williams’ – more about him later – virtuosic playing).

Along the way Drood’s casual racism arouses the ire of the tempestuous Landless twins, Neville and Helena – displaced Ceylonese siblings played with grand dramatic gestures and ‘geographically untraceable’ accents by decidedly non-Ceylonese actors Victor Grinstead and Janet Conover (played in turn by Ben Paterson and Flora Lloyd).

Thus the motives pile up, with Rutherford’s Chairman always quick to emphasise anything of potential narrative relevance. And so, when Drood finally disappears late in the first half, leaving only a tattered and blood-smudged coat, well… we have some difficult choices to make.

Along the way we are also introduced to the opium-dealing Madame of the underworld: Princess Puffer (the emotionally expressive Jude Gibson as Angela Prysock); the amiable and eternally frustrated Phillip Bax (played by Alan Palmer), a man condemned to one-line roles and unnamed characters when he really longs to be a writer and lead; and the comedic duo of Nick Cricker and his ambiguously-aged son Nicky Cricker (Andy Gartell and Frankie Curd respectively) as the boundlessly irritating Durdles and his deputy. 

Then there’s the full chorus of supporting actors, incompetent stage-hands, dancers and women of financially-negotiable virtue. And a dog. 


Yet none of this is the show’s main hook. That comes in the form of a few deliberations that we, as the audience, are asked to make part-way into the second half. You see, there are some questions to be answered, questions that Dickens never settled himself. This show has multiple, carefully-rehearsed endings, all waiting to be determined by the choices we make. Even then, there are twists…  

Oh yeah, and there’s singing and dancing too. 

The musical numbers are well-written pieces, bracingly performed by the cast to the accompaniment of the afore-mentioned and astonishing Michael Nicholas Williams (who does with a piano what few productions could accomplish with an orchestra). The lyrics are excellent and sharply-written. Three pieces particularly snagged my ears, two of them performed by Jude Gibson: the viciously hilarious ‘Wages of Sin’ which has something of a whiff of Brecht and Weill in its satirical depiction of the scabrous urban underbelly (Gibson connects superbly with the audience throughout this piece), and her haunting and discomforting ‘Garden Path to Hell’. The third standout song is ‘Both Sides of the Coin’ (performed by Rutherford and Buchanan) with its witty, rhythmic patter delivered at lightning-strike speeds to the dazed wonderment of the audience. 

The majority of the cast sing and perform well – Gavin Rutherford, Jack Buchanan, Jude Gibson and Flora Lloyd are especially fine. Barbara Graham is the most vocally superb among the cast with her rich, classically-trained notes, wise vocal interpretations and deft vibrato. Her operatic delivery offers a welcome respite from the Broadway-style belting that the rest of the cast engage in.

To be fair, my tolerance for musical hall singing has its limitations. For all that she inhabits the boyish physicality and vigour of the role of Drood well, Awhimai Fraser demonstrates a degree of uncertainty in her passaggio which results in her final grand note being delivered in a slightly-strained chest voice (and a little flat) when an integration of both her head and chest voice would have served her better. Her vowels are also a trifle constricted – perhaps as a result of carrying her character’s accent across into her singing. 

Unfortunately, much of the chorus work suffers from a loss of clarity, whether it is due to the writing, the often-speedy delivery, the acoustic or the arrangement. It means that the majority of the lyrics are lost in a blur of massed voices. 

Ian Harman’s production design is stunning, with a deceptively-simple and intriguing set that slyly subverts the space, inventive use of stage effects (including shadow-play and movable door frames) and sublimely expressive lighting. The costuming is extensive and beautifully-rendered, with even the clothing worn by the thirty-odd members of the chorus showing imagination and a tremendous amount of effort.

The combination of established, professional actors with emerging talents from the Whitireia Performing Arts department is an inspired and hugely successful one, lending the production intense vitality. Lyndee-Jane Rutherford should be highly commended for this decision and for her direction of the show in its entirety. It is a finely-wrought and polished production, a piece that seems to function seamlessly despite its striking scale. 

In spite of its few flaws (and the fact that, at over two hours long, it’s an exhausting watch; I can only guess at how hard it must be to perform) and its consistent lack of subtlety, what the dickens. The Mystery of Edwin Drood is a wild, funny and frivolous spectacle. It is a very enjoyable way to spend an evening.


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