Review: Cluedo at The Lowry Theatre

Cast of Cluedo 2022

Tom Babbage, Etisyai Phillips, Wesley Griffiths, Laura Kirman, Jean-Luke Worrell, Michelle Collins, Judith Amsenga and Daniel Casey - Credit: Craig Sugden

What do you get when you bring together six very different people, with just one thing in common, and hand each of them a murder weapon? Cluedo.

Michelle Collins, Etisyai Phillips, Tom Babbage, Judith Amsenga, Daniel Casey, in Cluedo

Michelle Collins, Etisyai Phillips, Tom Babbage, Judith Amsenga, Daniel Casey, in Cluedo - Credit: Craig Sugden

Cluedo, the board game, was invented during the long nights of blackout during World War 2, by a bored musician no longer able to spend his evenings plying his trade, and his wife, sitting at a kitchen table working it all out. Later bought by Waddingtons, the board games company, it was simplified and launched with six potential killers, one victim, six weapons and nine rooms - giving 324 possible outcomes. Was it Miss Scarlett in the Billiards Room with the Dagger, or Professor Plum in the Study with the Rope? Slow to catch the public's imagination, once it did, it settled into the top four most popular board games, so far selling over 150 million boxes and beaten only by Monopoly, Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit. In 1985 it was used to inspire the film Clue (the name for the game in the USA), starring Christopher Lloyd, and now it's been brought to the stage, in a play based on the movie and directed by Mark Bell, of the rib-crackingly funny, award-winning plays The Play That Goes Wrong and The Comedy About A Bank Robbery.

So it was with high hopes for a night of hilarity that we entered the theatre.

Tom Babbage, Judith Amsenga, Wesley Griffiths, Michelle Collins, Daniel Casey, Etisyai Phillips

The bewildered guests are handed their weapons - Credit: Craig Sugden

Sadly, our high hopes were slightly dashed, as the first half of the play seems to be entirely devoted to setting up the second half. That's not to say it's not funny, simply that there were long pauses when nothing much happened. But let's start from the beginning. Six diverse guests have been invited to Boddy Mansion for dinner. Each has been given a pseudonym: Miss Scarlett, Professor Plum, Reverend Green, Mrs White, Mrs Peacock, and Colonel Mustard. They are greeted by a butler, Wadsworth, and a maid, Yvette. There's also a cook, but no apparent host. It is revealed that they are all there as they have one thing in common - blackmail. Their missing host has been bleeding each of them dry to hide a grubby secret that would destroy them publicly.

This is when it gets slightly confusing. After a long dinner, when only one guest is actually given anything to eat (why?! We never find out.), their host arrives, tells them to kill the butler, and hands them all a potential murder weapon. The lights go out, a gun shot echoes, the lights go on and the host lies dead. Cue mayhem.

During the first half there are moments of pure comedy - mostly from Wadsworth, played superbly well by Jean-Luke Worrell, and Reverend Green, played by Tom Babbage. You can see his background with The Play That Goes Wrong and Peter Pan Goes Wrong, here. His physicality, his timing, his shambling nervousness, all just brilliant. Worrell too has served his time with Mark Bell, in Comedy About A Bank Robbery, and again, it shows. He is a master of physical humour, with cracking timing and a delicate touch where needed. 

Daniel Casey and Michelle Collins in Cluedo

Daniel Casey and Michelle Collins, as sleezy Professor Green and slinky Miss Scarlett - Credit: Craig Sugden

Also well cast are Michelle Collins, who gives excellent slink as vamp (and brothel madam) Miss Scarlett, by turns sexy temptress and fierce woman of the world, and Daniel Casey, the smart but sleazy Professor Plum, whose grubby antics with Mrs Peacock come as no surprise once you learn why he's being blackmailed. 

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As Act One proceeds there's a lot of rushing about, wild accusations and two more deaths - the cook and the host (again). There are plenty of laughs from the audience, but low level titters - not guffaws. We must wait till the second act for the guffaws.

The second act is much more the level of comedy hoped for. There is still a lot of rushing about, but with more purpose this time. There are more one-liners that trigger an immediate laugh, and yet more bodies create more hilarity, more mystery and more hysteria. The police arrive - and soon adds to the body count. A singing telegram arrives, and dies (a little random, but a moment of pure hilarity) and the maid gets it, too. As the bodies mount up, the comedy does too. The audience is now properly engaged and laughing loud. 

Daniel Casey, Laura Kirman, Tom, Babbage, Etisayi Phillips, Jean-Luke Worrell, Judith Amsenga in Cluedo

Daniel Casey, Laura Kirman, Tom, Babbage, Etisayi Phillips, Jean-Luke Worrell and Judith Amsenga demonstrate their physical comedy skills as a chandelier falls, very slowly, onto Reverend Green - Credit: Craig Sugden

The lighting, physical direction (there's a slow-mo scene that is simply superb) and sheer bewilderment of the cast brings us to a grand finale, with more police, plenty of 'he did it' and 'no, she did it' moments, cleverly presented and a final big reveal, that will surprise and please in equal measure, before perhaps the greatest death scene ever witnessed on stage, which has half the audience positively doubled over in their seats.

Perhaps with less irrelevant and repetitive dashing about in Act One, a slightly slower delivery of some of the dialogue (I am pretty sure clues were delivered I totally missed) and a little more of the wit of Act Two shared with Act One (I still don't get the meal scene), the play as a whole would have delighted just as much as the play as a half, did. 

I'd say if you're seeking a light-hearted night, with a lot of low level chuckles and sudden unexpected bursts of major laughs, this won't disappoint. 

Cluedo runs till Saturday 2 July, at The Lowry, Salford