Touring – reviewed at King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson
The touring Cluedo at the King’s is billed as a ‘brand new play’ and ‘an exciting comedy thriller’. It is certainly possible to quibble with those descriptions as there is little excitement, few thrills and nothing new. However, it does have considerable comic value.
The familiar detective board game is undoubtedly the original inspiration, with Miss Scarlett, the lead piping and the billiard room all present and correct, along with all of the other possibilities.
However, this play is very much an adaptation of Jonathan Lynn’s 1985 movie Clue, whose Hollywood origins are shown by the use of the game’s US name (Ludo apparently being unknown in America).
The film was a flop on release but has since become something of a cult, despite (or because of) its extreme silliness. Sandy Rustin’s faithful stage version has now been relocated to Britain by director Mark Bell.
Six characters – given the familiar colour-based names as pseudonyms, and all being blackmailed – gather at a country house, where of course murders soon start to occur. Not everything has been changed; the murder victim remains Mr Boddy rather than the original British Dr Black, for example. However, efforts have been made to move the story from 1950s New England to the old one in 1949.
Some of this is less than successful – for example, the anti-Communist ‘witch-hunts’ being replaced by the far more obscure Lynskey Tribunal investigating corruption at the Board of Trade. While this surely deserves marks for effort, it is a singularly inappropriate comparison, and has the bizarre consequence of replacing Joseph McCarthy as a bogeyman figure with Clement Attlee.
Modern sensibilities also appear to dictate that being gay is not enough on its own to make one a subject of blackmail (as it surely was for a Whitehall official in the 1940s) but the replacement reason is so peculiar as to defy proper examination.
Luckily, this hardly matters, as the plot rarely merits serious consideration. Suffice it to say that if you approach this as a regular whodunnit you are in danger of being severely disappointed.
If it doesn’t work as a murder mystery, it doesn’t fare much better as a farce. In an otherwise brisk affair, a huge amount of time is spent on the set-up, but it never has the ruthless internal logic a farce needs. There is certainly a great deal of running in and out of doors, but none of it is to any purpose.
This is probably not helped by David Farley’s set. The design is undoubtedly ingenious, with the walls opening out to reveal the various rooms, but the constant resetting slows things down far too much – even when it works properly.
Tom Babbage, Etisyai Phillips, Wesley Griffiths, Laura Kirman, Jean-Luke Worrell, Michelle Collins, Judith Amsenga, Daniel Casey. Pic: Craig Sugden
Luckily, there is enough comedy elsewhere to hold the attention. While some jokes fall decidedly flat, there is a pleasing reliance on utter absurdity. The time-honoured device of repeating something until it becomes boring, and then keeping going until it becomes funny again, is deployed effectively and often.
Bell’s direction – as befits someone who has worked with Mischief Theatre – is sure-footed and pacy, with Anna Healey’s movement direction extremely good. Warren Letton’s lighting and Jon Fiber’s sound are also thoroughly accomplished.
There is a real energy to the cast, who constantly succeed in keeping the momentum going. The marquee names are soap queen Michelle Collins (Miss Scarlett) and Daniel Casey of Midsomer Murders (Professor Plum) but they have no more to do than anyone else in what is very much an ensemble production, with everyone attacking their roles with the maximum of gusto. Wesley Griffith, Etisyai Philip, Judith Amsenga and Tom Babbage are the other suspects, with Babbage’s physical comedy a particular joy.
Michelle Collins, Tom Babbage, Judith Amsenga, Etisyai Phillips, Daniel Casey Pic: Craig Sugden
Laura Kirman’s not-very-French maid is also well played, with Harry Bradley’s recurring appearances as an unfortunate set of characters providing a real highlight.
In the same way that Tim Curry steals the limelight in the film, it is the butler Wadsworth that you will most remember. Here, Jean-Luke Worrell is always at the centre of proceedings, relishing every ridiculous remark. He also engages delightfully with the audience, notably in a bravura pantomime-style ‘plot recap’.
This is part of a wonderfully staged finale that makes this production akin to those movie blockbusters that throw the entire budget at the screen in the last twenty minutes, hoping that you will forget what has gone before.
Which more or less happens, in a production that will never win any prizes for profundity but does provide a great deal of enjoyment.
Running time: One hour and 45 minutes (including one interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street, EH3 9LQ
Tuesday 10 – Saturday 14 May 2022
Evenings at 7.30 pm; Matinees Wed and Sat at 2.30 pm
Information and tickets: Book here.
Glasgow Theatre Royal, 282 Hope Street, Glasgow G2 3QA
Mon 4 – Sat 9 July 2022
Mon – Sat 7.30pm; Thurs, Sat: 2.30pm.
Information and tickets: Book here.
Daniel Casey, Laura Kirman, Tom, Babbage, Etisayi Phillips, Jean-Luke Worrell, Judith Amsenga. Pic: Craig Sugden