Friday, January 13, 2012

The Dickens of a Play

The holiday diet of Dickens on TV ended with two nights of The Mystery of Edwin Drood - his last unfinished novel. He intended it to be published in twelve monthly instalments but he got up one morning with toothache, became very ill and died having only completed six.
It was once performed as a musical with the audience, each night, given the choice of three endings.

Now dramatised by Gwyneth Hughes, it is a dark piece with lust, sexual jealousy, murder and racism fuelled by liberal doses of laudanum doled out by a motherly Julia Mckenzie.  John Jasper the drug addicted choir master is obsessed with his nephew’s fiancĂ©e – Rosa Bud.
“Your bud has been plucked!” is a line Jasper fiendishly shouts to his nephew. 
The nephew – Edwin Drood is played by Freddie Fox and Rosa Bud by Tamzin Merchant.  The two of them together look like perfect innocent children making the dastardly Jasper seem like Lucifer himself.

Freddie Fox is the son of the brilliant actors Edward Fox (Day of the Jackal) and  Joanna David.  His sister is Emilia Fox, his uncle - James Fox (The Servant) and his cousin is Laurence Fox, co- star of Lewis – another British acting dynasty.
Jasper is played with chilling menace by Matthew Rhys and if he wasn’t the gay brother in the American TV show Brother’s and Sisters I’m a Dutchman.

At first with Jasper throttling his nephew, the story seems clear but nothing is as it seems and one is gripped to the end to discover who did what.  Certainly Edward disappears and the finger points to Jasper.
 The manuscript is in the Victoria and Albert Museum written at a frantic pace with crossings out and corrections – right up to the time he died and it isn’t clear if even Dickens knew how it was going to end.  His last written word was ‘appetite.’

Dickens makes even the smallest characters interesting and the actors do him proud; Rory Kinnear (yes he is the son of that late, great character actor Roy Kinnear who tragically died falling from a horse in the film Return of the Musketeers) plays the Reverend Crisparkle who seems to be developing an attachment to Edwin’s illegitimate sister.  Alun Armstrong plays the kindly lawyer whose clerk was a joy to watch, played – I think - by Alfie Davis.

I love the way Dickens clearly portrays the difference between good and evil and it was great to end a Dickens fest on an unfamiliar play that kept one guessing to the end.  The cathedral crypt, the graveyard, the music and the tantalising snippets of Matthew Rhys’ glorious voice letting rip makes me want to watch it again.

The photograph depicts Matthew Rhys as John Jasper, Tamsin Merchant as Rosa Bud and Freddie Fox as Edwin Drood in The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  BBC2


rashbre said...

I've somehow missed this series, but I suppose I can catch up on iPlayer. Dickens tells a cracking yarn in all of his stories.

As for different endings - Great Expectations had more than one ending as well. Dickens was persuaded to change the original one (let alone the TV adaptations)

R. Sherman said...

Sounds good. I hope it makes it over here to Public Television.


Pat said...

Rashbre: I thought to of you today when I was asked to send my complete manuscript. Just hope I can find all the pages.
It was interesting seeing the modern version of Great Expectations fairly close to the original film.

Randall: hope it does - it's worth a watch.

The Unbearable Banishment said...

I love the fact that because of Dickens' early demise, it REALLY IS a mystery! Nobody is quite sure how he wanted it to end. I'm sure he's having a great laugh over that.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

I WOULD love to see this---praying that our PBS Stations will show it---you have wet my appitite, my dear....
I also love the "FOX" FAMILY Acting dynasty---it is so wonderful when the children go into the family business and are sooo very talented! Both James and Edward Fox were and are favorites of mine.....Thanks for the wonderful review Pat....!

That Gray Box with the arrow is at the top of your post again---and the picture of the three talented people is at the bottom....Odd thing, this....(lol)

Mary Witzl said...

I agree with The Unbearable Banishment: it's all the more intriguing that this story was never finished.

rashbre said...

Pat : Exciting to hear that the manuscript is in demand!

Anonymous said...

@OldOldLady It's going to air on PBS on April 15th.