Forgive my ignorance of a genre which was at its pinnacle two centuries ago, but I have never experienced music hall, the genre which The Mystery of Edwin Drood resurrects to celebrate  Dickens’s two hundredth birthday. It’s not difficult to see how it’s evolved: the elements of pantomime, musical theatre etc, but you can also see why it died out.

Charles Dickens was midway through writing The Mystery of Edwin Drood when he died, so Rupert Holmes’s musical strives to solve the said mystery in the form of a play within a play. What is unique about this musical is that the Chairman (played comfortably by Denis Delahunt) calls upon the audience to democratically decide how they think the musical should end. If this really is in the audience’s hands – as a couple of previous audience members affirmed – then learning multiple endings is a mighty impressive task and one to be applauded. However this isn’t surprising considering the undeniable talent of the whole cast.

The choreography is sharp, and there’s not a bum note from anyone in Holmes’s gorgeous harmonies – although some voices are more powerful than others. Daniel Robinson (playing John Jasper) is a powerhouse; full of relentless energy in everything he does, reaching his highpoint in his passionate duet (the haunting ‘Moonfall’) with Victoria Farley as the doe-eyed Rosa Budd. The star attraction, Wendi Peters, plays a character reminiscent of the Queen of the Saucy Song in days of music hall, Marie Lloyd. Her song selection is more pedestrian and her vibrato grating, failing to showcase talent equal to the rest of the cast’s. Perhaps Holmes tries a little too hard to be funny at times, squashing so many words into a phrase they become incomprehensible… a little like Sondheim on steroids. Otherwise, it is a wonder this Tony Award-winning musical hasn’t been revived sooner; the music is catchy and comical.

Each character is grasped convincingly, David Francis pulls villainous expressions as if made of rubber, and the physicality of Natalie Day is spot on. The heightened stylisation is comical but can become tedious; a vicious circle ensues in which a joke is made out of music hall’s conventionally bad jokes. The ‘solve-it-yourself’ element of the musical breaks this up, and practically guarantees a good time will have been had by the ending.

Matthew Gould’s production pulls you instantly into the Victorian era: from the cheerful production design (Ben M Rogers and James Henshaw) and painted faces, to the audience participation; it’s an easy atmosphere where everyone feels free to hiss or cheer and sing along. Overall an extremely joyful performance and precise genre study – they must have had a ball at the theatre 200 years ago. A delightfully sunny show, The Mystery of Edwin Drood will lift your spirits thanks to this vibrantly spirited cast.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood is playing at the Arts Theatre until 17 June. For more information and tickets see the Arts Theatre’s website.