Review: Cluedo (touring) Belgrade Theatre Coventry

Cluedo

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

14th March 2022

Was it Miss Scarlett in the library with the dagger?  Was it Professor Plum in the study with the candlestick?  Was it a good idea to turn the legendary board game ‘Cluedo’ and cult 80s film ‘Clue’ into a new touring stage adaptation?

Fans of Jonathan Lynn’s 1985 movie ‘Clue’ will know what to expect here. Six seemingly unconnected strangers are summoned to an old creepy house on a dark wet night, where they learn they are being blackmailed.  The lights go off, murders start happening, and the group (and the audience) try to work out exactly who is on the other end of those legendary weapons. 

Director Mark Bell’s adaptation sometimes feels a little less of a “whodunnit?” and more of a “whydunnit?”. It strays so closely to Lynn’s memorable film that it can’t help but feel like a somewhat paler imitation at times.  There is enjoyment to be found here, it’s just unlucky that the film did it so well in the first place.  For those blissfully unaware of the film, this play is still a fun and silly slice of farcical murder mystery.

The characters stay largely faithful to their screen counterparts.  Sandy Rustin’s script (based heavily on Lynn’s original screenplay) relocates the story from New England to London, which still works, particularly for the more eccentric characters such as Colonel Mustard (Wesley Griffith) and Mrs Peacock (Judith Amsenga). 

It’s a decent and witty script and most characters have their own memorable lines throughout yet the piece overall is somewhat overshadowed by the physicality of the play.  Somehow it all gets a bit too farcical too soon, unlike the slower build-up of the film, and in doing so leaves the play nowhere to go.  On reflection, it feels like half of the play is just the characters running in and out of various doors like a Benny Hill sketch, which is overdone and can start to feel a bit draining.  I am aware that acting in a farcical comedy such as this one is a tricky business. It needs to be broad but not too broad. When farce is not done well, it can seem like bad acting.   When it’s done well, it’s highly effective and entertaining.  Mostly, in the case of Cluedo the latter is true.

This cast is a mixed bag. There are standouts. Griffith excels as Colonel Mustard, getting his “stiff upper lip” characterisation pitch-perfect.  Tom Babbage is also fantastic as Reverend Green, as is Jean-Luke Worrell as the butler Wadsworth, with the two of them truly owning the exposition-filled final quarter and being the highlights of the night.

Overall, Cluedo convinces you that you’ve had a good night. The second act is much stronger than the first, which feels slow and needing a bit of a jumpstart.  Perhaps it may have been better serviced as one single play, rather than breaking up the already-short running time into two (45 minutes followed by 35 minutes).  Played straight through with a rebalancing of the physical humour against the dialogue, it could be really great.  As it stands, it’s enjoyable enough to raise a few chuckles and keep you guessing.  Just watch the film when you get back home to see how good it could’ve been.

‘Cluedo’ runs at the Belgrade Theatre until Saturday 19th March, before continuing its UK tour until July 2022.

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