Sandy Rustin, based on the screenplay by Jonathan Lynn
Kilimanjaro Theatricals, Gabriel Creative Partners, The Araca Group and Lively McCabe Entertainment
Leeds Grand Theatre
The theatre is full of adaptations of books and films, but not so much board games. If ever one deserved a stage version, however, it would have to be Cluedo, which has been delighting players since 1949, selling over 150 million copies worldwide
Even if you haven’t played Cluedo since childhood, you’re still likely to recall some of its colourful characters (Miss Scarlett, Professor Plum, etc.) and eclectic murder weapons (a rope, a candlestick, etc.). As noted by director Mark Bell in the programme, the board game has “become part of our collective history”, providing a family-friendly way of exploring the British penchant for murder mysteries, particularly ones set in grand country houses.
Adapted from Jonathan Lynn’s screenplay for Clue, the 1985 film starring Tim Curry and Madeline Kahn, Sandy Rustin restores the British charm of the original game. One stormy night, a group of strangers gather in an isolated country house at the invitation of the mysterious Mr Boddy. These strangers introduce themselves under pseudonyms (Colonel Mustard, Mrs Peacock, etc.) and are gradually revealed to be the victims of an unscrupulous blackmailer. When their tormentor is murdered by an unseen assailant, each of them becomes a suspect, resulting in a series of baffling murders. Who is the killer? And will anyone survive through the night?
Mark Bell is rightly admired for his collaborations with Mischief Theatre, including their barnstorming debut The Play That Goes Wrong, which offers a hilarious send-up of country-house murder mysteries, of which Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is the most famous. Unfortunately, compared to the fleet-footed precision of the latter comedy, Cluedo’s pacing is often slack—despite its 105-minute running time—and the jokes aren’t as frequent or effective as one would like. Although the first half does a solid job of establishing the world of the show and its main characters, there is not enough exploration of the board game’s comic potential.
Things improve significantly in the second half, particularly in the final ten minutes. There is some amusing business involving the main protagonists trying to convince the police that the murder victims are still alive and kicking, and I enjoyed the show’s postmodern multi-solution ending which pays tribute to the board game’s 324 possible outcomes. The swift assassination of a singing telegram also made me rock with laughter. However, after a moribund first half, the increased energy of the second felt too little, too late.
There are some fine performances from the ensemble cast, not least Jean-Luke Worrell who brings a sinister elegance to the role of Wadsworth the butler. Laura Kirman also shines as Yvette the maid, who is constantly being upbraided for her wandering French accent. The sextet of actors who play Cluedo’s six murder suspects do the best with the material they have been given but, alas, often in vain. Tom Babbage, for example, who plays Reverend Green, clearly has a talent for physical comedy, but some of his pratfalls don’t have the impact they might have had if they were embedded more successfully.
Several of the production’s pacing issues can be attributed to David Farley’s clever set design, in which the wall panels open up to reveal glimpses of other rooms (e.g. the kitchen, the study, etc.). Despite being ingenious and helping to create a sense of period atmosphere, the scene changes slow down the production when it ought to rattle along.
There are funny, quick and imaginative moments in the second half which suggest the show that Cluedo might have been. Ultimately, however, the production doesn’t quite manage to fulfil its farcical potential.
Reviewer: James Ballands