An irresistible invitation from Lord Boddy brings the seemingly unconnected Colonel Mustard (played by Wesley Griffith), Miss Scarlett (Michelle Collins), Reverend Green (Tom Babbage), Professor Plum (Daniel Casey), Mrs Peacock (Judith Amsenga) and Mrs White (Etisyai Philip) to a country house one dark and stormy evening. Soon the connections, motives and corpses begin piling up as the mystery and hysteria grows. Who is doing the killing? Was it Miss Scarlett, with the revolver in the dining room, or Professor Plum, with the lead pipe in the library?
Despite the familiar name, Cluedo is a new piece of work. That is to say, it’s a new British play based on an older American play based on an 1985 American film (staring Tim Curry and Christopher Lloyd), based on a 1949 British board game.
This new version includes a transfer of the story back to Britain, as director Mark Bell wanted to tap into the implied connection the game had to the Agatha Christie country manor murder-mystery. As such, the play is as much a parody of those famous tropes (the country house, assembled guests, thunder, etc), as it is an adaptation of the game which shares them, though all the characters names are recognisable from the game.
The transfer in a way brings the story back home, not just in its setting, but also time. Cludeo (a pun on the then popular boardgame Ludo) was created during WW2 air raids by Anthony Pratt, a crime enthusiast and Birmingham musician, inspired by the upper-class party game Murder which the war had made impossible, and made by Waddingtons (now owned by Hasbro) in 1949 under Norman Watson, who had spent the war helping British prisoners of war break out by disguising maps of safe countries and escape tools in seemingly innocent board games.
So, this version takes place in the 1949 Home Counties instead of 1950s Washington, Mr Green is Reverend Green, and the Lynskey Tribunal (detailing Government corruption and criminal activity around avoiding rationing regulations) replace the US McCarthy communist trials. However even in the UK, the latter are probably more well known, making the characters motives a little less clear cut than in the original. On the other hand, a scandal involving “One rule for us” in government circles during a time of national crisis certainly has resonance with UK audiences today, with the shame and hypocrisy of being a Tory providing a lot more humour than the McCarthy trials might have.
And that’s as it should be, as this is a comedy, something the play and cast never forget. Writer Sandy Rustin, in her introduction to the play text, invites us to “embrace the style and find their own moments of comic physicality” and the cast certainly do that here, with Jean-Luke Worrell as Wadsworth using all of his height for maximum Tim Curry-like sinister-humour and Tom Babbage reacting to props via slow-mo and leaps. Each member of the cast gets their moment to shine, from Wesley Griffith with his non-sequiturs to Laura Kirman with her dodgy sometimes-French accent, and the ensemble (Meg Travers, Harry Bradley and Georgia Bradley) shining in multiple smaller roles and in the show’s strategic use of body doubles (not to be confused with Mr Boddy, who is also doubled by one of them).
Around them the set transforms quickly into different rooms thanks to single moving panels. Often close to farce (famous for its quick entrances and exits), in this show the set isn’t just scenery but also a prop. In the hands of this cast each door is a pratfall or chance for a hands-only dramatic entrance or exit.
As someone who has never seen the American play, or the film it is based on (and I think I’ve only played the board game once), I can confidently say this play stands on its own. With a script that dares to push its jokes to the utmost silliness and a cast committing 100% to it, this whodunnit is a hoot-dunnit for fans of the game, the film and the genre it merrily spoofs.
Playing until 14th May, https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/cluedo
Reviewer: Oliver Giggins
Reviewed: 10th May 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★