Sandy Rustin, based on the screenplay by Jonathan Lynn
Kilimanjaro Theatricals, Gabriel Creative Partners, The Araca Group and Lively McCabe Entertainment
Theatre Royal Bath
As director Mark Bell writes in his programme notes, Cluedo is a British play, based on an American play, based on an American film, based on a board game (yes, that’s correct). All the characters remain, as do the weapons and the rooms—so who was it, with what and where?
As with many murder mysteries currently in production across the country, it isn’t one to take itself too seriously. When the classic six arrive in their colour-coordinated outfits at the invitation of Lord Boddy to his manor, it’s evident that a stirring evening has been preordained as guests are killed one by one.
Mark Bell, who directed the ever-successful and much-loved The Play That Goes Wrong, is at the helm. He tries his best to adapt this for British audiences but with so many versions of one story, it lacks freshness and ultimately falls short, as admittedly most comedy plays do, of the standard set by Mischief Comedy. Unfortunately, no matter what the changes Bell makes to ‘British-fy’ the production, it can’t paper over cracks.
With more doors opening than Halloween night, it can be over-frenetic and unnecessary. A shame, as the set is ingeniously designed by David Farley—which plays a superb homage to the board game. Door gags are a somewhat common feature in slapstick comedy, and when done correctly can draw endless laughter. But in an already short show, it felt excessive. That being said, the coordination of such is applaudable and props must go to Anna Healey, the show’s movement director.
It’s not all disappointment. Cluedo brings it home quite well in the second act and recovers from a slightly underwhelming opening half. It lands the jokes sweeter and the twisty discovery of the murderer is nicely wrapped up. This is mostly due to some standout performances by Jean-Luke Worrell as Wadsworth the butler and Tom Babbage as Reverend Green.
The pair earn most of the show’s funniest bits and commit wholly to deliver, no matter how silly or farcical. There’s also some top-notch sound and lighting design (by Jon Fiber and Warren Letton), which, like the set, only helps Cluedo’s bid for laughs.
Some acting is strong, a few are solid, but a couple fall short to create a well-oiled ensemble. What Cluedo demonstrates is that farce and slapstick is much harder to pull off than it seems on the surface. There are moments to be had and a couple of great gags make it a worthwhile watch but it fails to live up to the standards that recent shows like Charlie & Stan, The Play What I Wrote, Crimes, Camera, Action and The Play That Goes Wrong have set.
All in all, it garners enough laughs to make this a pleasant evening at the theatre—and at just one hour and forty minutes in length, it doesn’t overindulge itself for any longer than it should.
Now, when is that Monopoly adaptation going to be ready?
Reviewer: Jacob Newbury