Tuesday 22nd March 2022 at Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House.
First a humble board game (a creation of Anthony Pratt), then a film, and now a play – it’s been quite a journey for the classic “Whodunnit?” pastime. This latest instalment in its history very much takes its cue from the likes of The Mousetrap and inserts a good dose of farce – it’s not surprising at all to learn that Mark Bell, of Mischief Comedy fame, directs and does his best to bring the same charm, sharp pace and precise physical comedy to this piece.
So, we’re at a country manor, circa 1949, and the full set of Cluedo characters gradually arrive, each with their own exaggerated quirks and of course, just in time to be incriminated in murder, obviously. There’s a hip-swinging, eyebrow-raising Miss Scarlett (Michelle Collins), a blustering Professor Plum (Daniel Casey), a bumbling, gung-ho Colonel Mustard (Wesley Griffith), an underwhelmed, overwrought Mrs White (Etisyai Philip) and a put-upon fake French maid, Yvette (Laura Kirman) to boot.
Completing the set and with notable comic performances, we have a whacky, eccentric Mrs Peacock (Judith Amsenga) and a brilliantly chaotic Reverend Green – played by Tom Babbage, who gives one of the stand-out performances of the evening. Babbage has the kind of comic timing and broad comedic talent that can carry a production like this but thankfully he doesn’t have to here because we have Jean-Luke Worrell front and centre as Wadsworth, the Butler. Worrell is fantastic as this charmer happily at the centre of everything with a mischievous glint and a theatrical flair that we can only happily go along with.
The plot itself is a mixed bag. Act 1 begins well with the entrances of our various guests, but a sense of static action develops in places and saps energy – something rectified as time goes on, and certainly something remedied in the second act, but there’s something lacking in Act 1 which I can’t quite put my finger on… Perhaps the cast is just too large to get the same sense of momentum and slick movement going, or they’re simply not yet in sync enough to give Anna Healey’s movement direction the zing it needs… It makes for an uneven rather than a disappointing production, but it is a shame not to see the precision and pace of Act 2 throughout. That said, I put my money on the wrong culprit, so it does well to keep us guessing!
And how do you bring the iconic locations of this board game into being on stage? David Farley does a great job of conjuring this Manor House with an ever shifting set, smoothly transitioning between each space with a few moving walls (almost like an old doll’s house of sorts), allowing for plenty of entry and exit chaos as characters hide-and-seek each other. It’s a set which also fully supports the plot in terms of inventive cubby holes and clever details. As for the script, Sandy Rustin adapts the tale from Jonathan Lynn’s original screen play, bringing plenty of crossed wires, malapropisms and classic obvious ah-ha-moment one liners to the eager masses.
All in all, when it’s good, Cluedo is very good, and when it flags, it at least flags for short snippets of time. It certainly has some great highlights worth seeing though – not least those charismatic, indefatigable performances from Jean-Luke Worrell and Tom Babbage.
Cluedo plays Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House until March 26th, 2022 – you can find your tickets here.