CLUEDO

★★★★

_REVIEW.   it’s about _THEATRE.   words _KYLE PEDLEY.
  at _WOLVERHAMPTON GRAND.   tickets _OFFICIAL SITE.   booking until _16th JULY.

July 11, 2022

images © Craig Sugden.

Note: TWE recently reviewed  ‘Cluedo’ earlier in its tour. Given that this is the same touring production, what follows is a revised version of that same review, updated for its visit to the Wolverhampton Grand.

Contextually speaking, there’s perhaps little mystery as to why Hollywood’s film adaptation of classic ‘whodunnit’ board game Cluedo has yet materialised on stage here in the UK. Released in 1985, Clue (being the abbreviated title for the game Stateside, for a market unfamiliar with Ludo), despite boasting the mega comedy wattage of a cast including Tim Curry, Christopher Lloyd and Lesley Ann Warren, was something of a Box Office dud. Critics at the time were mostly put off by its irreverence and whirlwind pace, whilst audiences mostly balked at the – fairly innovative – idea of putting out different endings into different cinema chains. At a time where Murder She Wrote and Poirot were giving definitive solutions to oh-so-serious murder mysteries, the post-modern hijinks and lightness of Clue were seemingly delivered a fatal lead pipe to the longevity.

Cue a mix of nostalgia, slowly-gestating ‘cult’ status, and in particular, retrospective appreciation for many of its’ stellar casts back catalogue, and, is perhaps cultural internet protocol nowadays, many have found themselves revisiting and re-appraising Clue. And, in a climate where Mischief Theatre launched practically an entire sub-genre of theatre and television on a similar premise, the time seemed ripe and ready for Jonathan Lynn’s joyously chaotic romp to find a whole new audience.

Those familiar with the film will find themselves – by way of transatlantic appropriation – in knowing territory. Six strangers are summoned to the isolated Boddy Manor by way of mysterious written invitation, where they are greeted by various serving staff – most notably Butler Wadsworth (Jean-Luke Worrell). Their host, one Mr Boddy himself (there’s a clue there, for the keenest of intellects) is ominously absent at the outset, yet he has instructed them all to adopt the six classic Cluedo pseudonyms you’ll likely know off by heart.

There are plenty of nuggets thrown up early on toward shady back stories and potential motives – be it the Minister’s wife accepting underhanded lobbying bribes, the serial widower whose last husband was found decapitated and de- well, you’ll see, or, perhaps most shocking of all, the Conservative party member who – gasp – didn’t vote for Churchill! Throw in a maid with a phoney French accent, the cook with a seething vendetta for seemingly everyone, and a fair share of knowing glances between characters, and it’s a positive melting pool of murderous potential.

“Flames… flames on the side of my face!” – This new stage production of Cluedo is based on the 1985 Tim Curry film ‘Clue’ (the US title for the board game). In an effort to maintain the ‘whodunnit’, Clue released with three different endings in cinemas, ranging from one guilty suspect, to all six!

So far, so Christie. Yet, whilst there is plenty of legwork done early on to lay fairly conventional (if slightly parodic) foundations for the inevitable bloodshed and subsequent sleuthing, where Cluedo really shines is as a madcap, loving satire of the genre practically as a whole. This is by no means a dry, formulaic murder mystery, but rather a hypercharged farce that just so happens to hang on a suitably Christie-esque framework, and is all the funnier and more energetic for it.

As mentioned, there are more than passing echoes of Mischief here, with its relentless pace and rapid-fire gaggery, perhaps little surprise given the production is helmed by The Play That Goes Wrong’s Mark Bell. Bell, working with Sandy Rustin’s original stage adaptation book, does great working not only in bringing the show creatively to British shores, but quite literally, too. Sure, some of the more whippish dialogue and beats from the film, nestled within the comfort of a tight edit, can occasionally get lost (or even worse, languished on) here, and there a handful of moments such as an extended visualisation of each characters’ paranoia that lands with a bit of a clunk, but in other ways the performative, exaggerated nature of the stage means Bell and his cast find plenty of unique physicality and mileage, wholly exclusive to this experience.

“Flames… flames on the side of my face!” – This new stage production of Cluedo is based on the 1985 Tim Curry film ‘Clue’ (the US title for the board game). In an effort to maintain the ‘whodunnit’, Clue released with three different endings in cinemas, ranging from one guilty suspect, to all six!

One particular moment – as simple and innocuous as a character repeatedly saying another’s name – is deliciously observed and completely unique to the stage show, yet comfortably up there with the biggest and finest laughs of the night.

“A real ensemble piece… no character goes without motive or moment, and the excellent company do terrific work keeping the energy levels up over the show’s admittedly lean 80-minute runtime.”

It’s a real ensemble piece, too, even with recognisable TV names such as Eastenders and Coronation Street’s Michelle Collins and Midsomer MurdersDaniel Casey in the fold. No character goes without motive or moment, and the excellent company do terrific work keeping the energy levels up over the show’s admittedly lean 80-minute runtime. Collins is both knowingly vampy yet also wry and deadpan as Miss Scarlett, accused of offering certain services from her ‘business’ in Soho. Answers on a postcard (or in a little black book). Casey, meanwhile, has a lot of fun getting to send up much of his Midsomer sensibilities, though he is somewhat out-buffooned by a hilariously oafish Wesley Griffith, whose Colonel Mustard is perpetually slow on the uptake… save for when readying his trusty coatstand (of all things) in self-defence. Elsewhere, Judith Amsenga offers some fantastic, transformative physical comedy ‘aged up’ as the drunken, occasionally-hysterical Mrs Peacock, Etisyai Philip is bullish and commandeering as serial-widow Mrs White, whilst Harry Bradley scoots around stealing scenes with aplomb in multiple bit parts.

Perhaps the two standouts, though, are Tom Babbage as the unfortunate, calamity-prone Reverend Green, and Jean-Luke Worrell, who utterly owns the stage from the off in what was Tim Curry’s similarly madcap role of Wadsworth the Butler (though it has to be said, Worrell completely makes the role his own). Both give great madcap physical comedy and slapstick, as well as navigating the U-turns and demands of a particularly frenzied Act II with complete aplomb. Much of the comedic and expositional heavy-lifting falls on the talented actors’ shoulders, and it’s a testimony to them that the second half of the show, so reliant on their instincts and execution as actors as it is, becomes such an uproarious and satisfying close.

It’s a lean, pacy lark of a show, with gags and jokes coming at a suitable ‘if you don’t laugh at one, there’ll be another along any second’ stream, filled with spritely performances that all help to craft a genuinely funny satire of a genre and game for which it nonetheless shows a clear respect and reverence for. Catching up with it again later on in its tour, there’s admirably zero sign of any fatigue, coasting or complacency setting in, either – if anything, some of physical beats in particular felt sharper and more immediate. Some may arch an eyebrow at the curtain call landing just over an hour and a half in, but in truth it just means Cluedo keeps its punchy momentum, and doesn’t get bogged or, indeed slowed, down with any needless extra baggage thrown it.

If you insist on your whodunnits being slathered in the macabre, the grim or the solemn, this wistfully silly spin on the formula may not be to your taste. But for everyone else, hang up your rope, put your spanner back in the toolbox, sheath your dagger, return your pistol to the cabinet, leave your candlestick on the table, and for heaven’s sake, don’t pick up your lead pipe (as the show’s programme reminds us, the damn thing’s poisonous!) – enjoy the sublime silliness and laugh-out-loud farcical frenzy of Cluedo, instead.

A killer cast. In the theatre. With the laughs. A gleefully bonkers satire well worth sleuthing out. Case closed.

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