Review: Cluedo (touring) Nottingham Theatre Royal

Let the game begin…

Set in Boddy Manor, a quintessentially British Manor House with a selection of quintessentially British characters, Cluedo is your quintessential whodunit…and it’s a hilariously wonderful way to spend an evening.

With a nod to the invention of the murderous board game, Cluedo is set in post-war Britain, and sees our well-known characters, Miss Scarlet (Michelle Collins), Professor Plum (Daniel Casey), Colonel Mustard (Wesley Griffith), Mrs Peacock (Judith Amesenga), Mrs White (Etisyai Philip) and Reverend Green (Tom Babbage) all converge for an unknown reason, at an isolated house, at night, in the middle of a thunderstorm. And with that, the stage is set for an evening of pure immersion into answering the question “who killed Mr Boddy?” It occurs to this reviewer, that if characters stopped attending unknown locations after receiving notes from unknown persons, the theatre would be a poorer place for it!

Written by Sandy Rustin, this slapstick farce never takes itself too seriously, and neither do the actors, who clearly relish presenting the audience with an escapist comedy, especially during such uncertain times, but more on that later. The script is fast paced, very wordy and extremely clever with layered comedy to suit all tastes. Enjoy a bit of political satire? It’s got it. Are you a sucker for a corny gag? This play has them in spades. Or is it physical comedy that floats your boat? Oh it’s there too. Within seconds of the house lights going down to present the hallway of the Tudor Manor House with clever multicoloured lighting (another nod to the board game), the audience is laughing. Rustin and Director Mark Bell can sit back in their chairs satisfied in the knowledge that they achieved what they set out to do: make the audience laugh.

For this reviewer, and I dare say the entire audience, the source of much of this evening’s merriment is due to the absolutely perfect casting of Jean-Luke Worrell as Wadsworth the butler. Worrell holds all of the pieces together, has exquisite comic timing and his Act 2 monologue is breath-taking, drawing appreciative applause from the audience. He completely holds the stage and draws the eye just with his facial expressions. This reviewer finds herself thinking “what would you get if you crossed Tim Curry with Lurch?” Worrell’s physical comedy is also to be applauded – who knew the simple opening and closing of doors could bring such guffaws?

The rest of the ensemble cast all develop their characters around Worrell’s Wadsworth. This is no criticism. This play needs a centre focus so that none of our six “players” stand out and skew your deductions. Collins puts in a fine turn as the sultry and feisty Miss Scarlet. Special mention again to her facial expressions which are straight out of a comic book. Casey’s Professor Plum is just the right level charming and flirtatious. As the hapless Colonel Mustard, Griffith plays this moustache twirling caricature of an army veteran with aplomb. Amesenga’s Mrs Peacock, the straight-laced, prim and proper lady with hidden, or not so hidden, foibles takes her character on a journey of self discovery – and it’s joyful to watch! Philip has a sternness about her Mrs White which complements the rest of the characters well. As Reverend Green, the quiet yet clumsy clergyman, Babbage is accomplished at physical theatre and slapstick.

Laura Kirman, as the likeable and unfortunate maid Yvette, Meg Travers and Harry Bradley make up the full cast. Travers and Bradley take on multiple roles and hats off to their nuanced performances. A costume change alone is never enough to convince this reviewer that a new character is on stage.

The set design is phenomenal. Bearing in mind that Boddy Manor is a huge house, easily represented on a board game, how does one recreate this on a stage? David Farley has really excelled himself with this design. The numerous doors and pull out walls make this a flexible space for Anna Healy’s inspired choreography which is executed with split second precision. The illusion of a grand space with hidden surprises is created and marvelled at by the audience.

This new production was a pleasant surprise on a dreary Monday night but there is one small criticism which may seem pedantic as it only drew attention to itself because of the current political climate. There is an underlying political satire which works well but during an exchange, a reference to the post-war fears around Russia was made. This added nothing of import to the plot or the gag and its inclusion was a little insensitive. There was a notable albeit quiet tightening in the audience. The omission of this, at this time, would be welcome.

This production of the classic whodunnit trope really does have it all and caters for every taste, from frozen tableau to groin-injuring kicks, from perfectly executed slow motion to tightly choreographed chaotic running, and from some of the fastest dialogue I’ve seen on stage to confidently held extended silence.

Cluedo is “playing” at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal until Saturday 5 March with a running time of just under 2 hours including an interval. It really is to die for…

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