The comedy-thriller Cluedo has arrived at The Lowry, bringing an all-too-familiar whodunit recipe – but infused with enough slapstick silliness and one-liners to leave you breathless with laughter throughout.
Based originally on the generation-spanning board game beloved by millions, the franchise has seen itself spun off into a whole host of other mediums over the years, from a musical to books and even stints on television.
The 1985 film Clue (American name for Cluedo due to possible confusion over the pre-existing game Ludo), with a screenplay by Jonathan Lynn and starring Tim Curry, serves as the primary inspiration for this production.
Director Mark Bell (The Play That Goes Wrong) and writer Sandy Rustin (The Cottage) – while making a few alterations, such as bringing the action back across the pond to a post-war Britain – stick faithfully to the source material.
The action starts, as all good murder mysteries do, on a stormy night on the moors in a grand country house.
Six guests, each distinctly devious, are invited to dine with the enigmatic Lord Boddy, and upon arrival are each provided with a pseudonym and are assigned a murder weapon from the famous Cluedo arsenal: the candlestick, rope, revolver etc.
A plot involving blackmail ensues, and the body count starts to stack up as the night descends into chaos – with often hilarious results.
Making up the unscrupulous guestlist is the glamorous Miss Scarlett, played by Michelle Collins (Eastenders), the pompous Professor Plum, played by Daniel Casey (Midsomer Murders), the bumbling Colonel Mustard, played by Wesley Griffith (Romeo and Juliet), the mysteriously too oft divorced Mrs White, played by Etisyai Philip (Pennyworth), the eccentric Mrs Peacock, played by Judith Amsenga (DEVS), and last but by no means least, the accident-prone Reverend Green, played by Tom Babbage (The Play That Goes Wrong).
The most indispensable piece on the board, however, is the excellent Jean-Luke Worrell, who does a wonderful turn as the balletic butler, Wadsworth.
As well as being the seemingly moral core of the cast of characters – the rest being a thoroughly repugnant band of reprobates – he also guides the audience on a tour through the mansion, gliding across the stage and unlocking the secrets contained behind each door as the mystery deepens.
The stage set up by David Farley (Sunday in the Park with George) is wonderfully designed and is set up around a central hallway with doorways around its perimeter that open up like the drawers of a bureau, effectively giving the mansion its sense of scale.
Furthermore, the costuming by Farley further evokes the sense of time, with the late-forties fashion doing a great job of presenting the pompous propriety and charming civility of that period of upper-class British history.
The sound and lighting, by John Fiber and Warren Letton respectively, does a terrific job of setting the mood: with loud cracks of thunder reverberating around the theatre raising the tension.
And a particularly inventive slow motion and rewinding section makes great use of their talents, providing one of the standout moments of the production.
It is not all highs, though. I did feel that in the first half, in particular, there were a lot of jokes that just seemed a little dated and too obvious. And the pacing of the first half – although necessary to introduce and establish the characters – did flounder at times.
It is in the second half that things really start to heat up, with some truly memorable scenes that really capture the audience.
An agonisingly slow-motion falling chandelier is a particular highlight that wouldn’t look out of place in a Matrix movie and exemplifies the creativity on display here.
So, rather than being killed in the study with the typewriter, this at times bonkers adaptation of the beloved board game is both charming, mostly hilarious, and makes for a wonderful night of light-hearted theatre.