Touring – reviewed at Curve Leicester
Mark Bell’s production of Cluedo, adapted from Sandy Rustin’s US play which itself is based on Jonathan Lynn’s screenplay of the 1985 film Clue, has been transposed to 1940s England.
Based on the classic British board game, the play is a mashup of an Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery crossed with a farce in the style of Mischief Theatre. Whilst there are plenty of twists and turns in this whodunnit, loosely set upon a backdrop of scandal and corruption, the main thing I was left scratching my head at was where did the whole thing go wrong?
Rustin’s play is apparently one of the most performed in the US at the moment (there are productions in 13 different states in June alone). Whereas her play is set in McCarthy era Washington DC, she does have form writing plays in the style of English farces with her play The Cottage (2014). Likewise, Bell comes with a string of successful comedies under his name having previously directed The Play that Goes Wrong (seen here last month) and The Comedy About a BankRobbery. It’s a shame, then, that Cluedo, in trying to be both a murder mystery and a farce, doesn’t live up to the expectations of either.
Corruption is at the centre of Cluedo’s plot. Six strangers are invited to a country manor one stormy evening, all of whom are being blackmailed by their host for various ‘indiscretions’. Inspired by the events of the Lynskey Tribunal which found criminal activities happening in the upper echelons of British society, the play exposes the hypocrisies of those upholding a charade of decency. One character’s proclamation of ‘I’m not involved in any corruption. I’m a Conservative’ certainly strikes a chord. But the play’s pertinence ends there. The host is murdered during a blackout and the body count quickly rises. What follows is a murder mystery romp in which the only form of tension is from a loud thunderclap sound effect.
The characters, as you’d expect from those in the board game, are mostly stereotypes. Colonel Mustard, for instance, is reduced to spoonerisms and cheap puns: ‘You’ve all been given pseudonyms tonight’, ‘It’s OK, I took something for my hay fever before I got here’; ‘Do you like Kipling?’, ‘Oh, I’ll eat anything’. But it is typical of the play’s inconsistencies and missed opportunities that at one point, having spent all of act one punning, that he asks ‘how can you joke at a time like this?’ without a hint of irony or humour.
But because of their two-dimensional nature, it’s difficult to really care about any of them. Daniel Casey is having a good time as the plummy stiff upper-lipped Professor Plum, and Meg Travers (on for Michelle Collins) nicely portrays the cunning side of the femme fatale Miss Scarlett. Overall, I appreciate the characters are supposed to be stereotypes but I think more could have been done to play up the cartoonish caricatures which push the boundaries of the play’s faithfulness to the board game. Mostly, the cast don’t have much to play with resulting in weak characterisations.
If there are any saving graces, the production runs along at a nice pace and there’s an amusing moment in the second act involving a slow-motion falling chandelier. But apart from that it feels like the play gives up in the second half. A random singing telegram arrives, there’s an excruciating moment of fake corpsing, and the jokes start to feel repetitive. Successful farces are often best played naturistically and work because you feel none of the characters want to be there, but I never really felt that the stakes were particularly high here. They also tend to find their own groove from which the momentum builds. If a singing telegram turned up in a Mischief Theatre production, which tend to reach the delirious heights of hilarity, it would probably work. But in Cluedo, it just felt flat.
David Farley’s design is enjoyably playful. Seven doors line the edge of the set in a nod to Marc Camoletti’s Boeing Boeing. These fold out to reveal inner rooms you’d expect to find in the boardgame and complement Anna Healey’s movement rather well to give the effect that the cast are roaming around a country mansion. But, overall, I can’t help but think this is best kept on the shelf.
Cluedo plays at Curve, Leicester until 11th June as part of a UK tour. For further information, please visit https://www.cluedostageplay.com/
Daniel Casey and Michelle Collins in Cluedo. Credit: Craig Sugden.