The Masters of Mystery: Marlowe Studio, Canterbury.
Reviewed 20th October 2017.
This original musical from Jenna Donnelly and Ethan Lewis Maltby, directed by Jessica Beck is part of the 2017 Canterbury Festival in Kent. The story is set in 1926, in a town plagued by mysterious figures and missing women. Lock and Doc are the two unlikely heroes of the story. Two school friends who arrive in the town after the passing of Lock’s father.
The concept is definitely innovative and fresh. With elements of Jekyll and Hyde The Musical, Sherlock Holmes and The Woman in Black, Masters of Mystery manages to mix tension, humour and music. The music in particular worked especially well. Whilst it was not a live band, the backing recordings used kept the story flowing together seamlessly. There was often a drumming, steady beat which increased pace or volume to heighten the tension. Ethan Lewis Maltby has composed for cinema and television and this was evident in the music throughout the show.
The lyrics by Jenna Donnelly, were very good and the pace of the songs fitted really well. The songs were very quick and diction from the cast was brilliant. They felt very modern, despite the time period and plot, and none of the songs felt like they dragged. Some of the harmonies and ensemble pieces really stood out because they created the atmosphere and tension that the show needed.
The storyline was an intriguing one. Mixing comedy, murder and mysterious, evil figures along with romance and friendship is a tough call. This show definitely has lots of potential but needs to simplify the plot slightly and focus more on the key messages of the storyline. During the first act it felt like the show wasn’t quite sure of it’s genre and voice. The second act was much better at drawing the audience in and explaining the slightly overly complicated story. Without spoiling the plot and ending I do feel the show could concentrate more on the real reason behind these disappearances and killings. It almost felt rushed at the end and the issue, which is immensely relevant at the current time, was not tackled enough.
The set, designed by Lucky Bert, was used really effectively. Within such a small space the use of different levels worked well to create different space. The raked stage, with three main exits and entrances, easily became different venues without any use of scenery changes or additional props other than stools. In addition, the lighting designed by Neill Brinkworth, was also a welcome extra touch. The use of colour to add atmosphere and tension worked especially well. Costumes were in keeping with the time period and the mysterious figures were well designed – although perhaps having their appearances more subtle and fleeting could be more dramatic and intriguing?
The staging of the piece was effective and whilst there was not a huge amount of choreography the movement on such a small stage worked well and was in keeping with the piece. The use of slow-motion movements to show when Lock was deep in thought was an interesting touch.
The cast were very good in role, especially Matt Traylor (Doc) and Mollie King (Lock) who led the cast very well. Most actors played several parts and Ophelia Mancini was especially good at this.
This show has all of the elements of being able to move to other fringe and off-West End venues. The audience were certainly talking animatedly about it during the interval and after the final curtain call. The score is fresh, interesting and modern. It has an gripping plot and with some minor tweaks could be a real success. If you get the chance try to make this a priority to see over the next few days. I can guarantee you won’t have seen a show quite like it before.
The Masters of Mystery runs at the Marlowe Studio, Canterbury until 21st October 2017. For more information and tickets see: https://www.canterburyfestival.co.uk/whats-on/performance/the-masters-of-mystery.aspx