Writer: Sandy Rustin (based on original screenplay by Jonathan Lynn)
Director: Mark Bell
The iconic board game Cluedo, now more than 70 years old, has been turned into TV series, jigsaws, computer games, a musical, comics and books. But for those who yearned for a comedy-drama version of trying to work out which character committed a murder, in which room and with which weapon the 1985 film Clue! became a cult classic to savour. Now, a stage play based on that movie is on a UK tour which proves not only that murder isn’t easy but also that comedy whodunits can work perfectly when delivered with consummate ensemble skill.
A Cluedo stage play by Robert Duncan based on the game first appeared in the 1980s and enjoyed a couple of successful tours. During the interval audiences had to guess whodunit and how, the most popular choice determining how the second act played out.
Any mid-play guesswork in this new, different version must just be done over a drink in the theatre bar but that doesn’t lessen the impact of an hilarious, extremely well-staged show that exercises both the little grey cells and the laughter muscles.
Sandy Rustin’s script (based on Jonathan Lynn’s original film screenplay and tweaked for the UK by Mark Bell, who also directs) drips with wit and a period style unafraid of referencing the present day. More than that it doesn’t mind just being plain silly, as we have come to expect and enjoy from The Play That Goes Wrong director Bell. There is plenty of physical and slapstick comedy, not least as the cast move props and scenery around in deliberately thinly disguised and increasingly absurd manoeuvres (choreographed exquisitely by Anna Healey).
Set in 1949 (the year the board game first appeared) the audience enters to see a creative set by David Farley which introduces the well-known characters and colours before opening up to mirror the familiar board layout, complete with secret passages. It is a clever and intricate design which sets the mood completely.
The unsuspecting group has been gathered in the manor house by their host Mr Boddy – though they are not all they appear to be – and it is not long before deep secrets are revealed and the murders mount up amid cries of “It was Professor Plum in the Study with the revolver!” and the like. So much depends on the instantly recognisable characters and this is one of the production’s triumphs, with every performer giving 100% as the plot surrounding government corruption unfolds.
It is true that the piece requires so much working together – which the cast seems to be enjoying enormously – that individuals risk getting swallowed up in the whole, but the direction ensures everybody has their moments. It is little surprise that Jean-Luke Worrell as Wadsworth is such a standout, playing the butler role created so flamboyantly by Tim Curry in the movie, but he more than makes the part his own, with effortless comic timing and expression. His second act summary of the story so far is a gem.
Tom Babbage as Reverend Green puts every ounce of his Goes Wrong experience to the best of use in a series of mishaps culminating in an effective slow motion scene where a chandelier falls above his head. Etisyai Philip is deliciously refined as Mrs White, with a penchant for martial arts, while Wesley Griffith is deftly daft as a dim Colonel Mustard. Michelle Collins oozes suggestive steaminess as a sultry Miss Scarlet with a Soho business that aims to please, while Daniel Casey is an upstanding Professor Plum and Judith Amsenga is a dotty Mrs Slocum-like Mrs Peacock. Laura Kirman is very funny as the maid Yvette, a northerner desperately trying to maintain a French accent, with Harry Bradley playing a variety of, let us say, short-lived roles with poker-faced skill.
Adding considerably to the overall piece are Jon Fiber’s sound design and Warren Letton’s lighting, both of which add to the atmosphere enormously, as does Zeb Soanes’ mellifluous voice on the radio before the play begins.
There are plenty of knowing references to the board game itself (the name of the manor’s architect is John Waddington and a nod to a roll of the dice to name but two) and to the movie source, but this Cluedo inhabits a wonderfully manic world of its own in which all the stage is a board game and all the characters more than mere playing pieces.
Runs until 12 March 2022 and touring