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Cluedo 2. Play performed at Richmond Theatre,London, UK
Cluedo 2. Play performed at Richmond Theatre,London, UK

Cluedo 2: Theatre Review

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In 1948, poet WH Auden wrote an essay outlining the key components of the ideal English detective story. ‘A murder occurs, many are suspected: all but one suspect, who is the murderer, is eliminated: the murderer is arrested.’ Such was the national fascination with crime fiction (refined by a pair of revered female writers, Dorothy L Sayers, and Agatha Christie) that it wasn’t surprising when a murder mystery board game appeared on the market.  

Created in war-ravaged Birmingham by humble Anthony Pratt and his wife Elva to stave off boredom between air raids, Cluedo was first manufactured in 1949 by British company Waddingtons. Cluedo was an instant hit. Sickening then, that Waddingtons offered Pratt a buy out deal based on a lie, informing him that the game hadn’t been successful in America (it had). Pratt signed over the international rights for a modest five grand. 

Cluedo 2. Play performed at Richmond Theatre, London, UK
Cluedo 2. Play performed at Richmond Theatre,London, UK

Given Cluedo has sold over 200 million sets, spawned a film, a TV game show, novels, comic books, computer games, travel sets, jigsaws and themed parties, the man was stiffed. Quelle surprise (corporate rip off – the oldest story in the world). Maybe he felt like smacking Waddingtons’ chief exec over the head with a candlestick (in the meeting room, naturally). Pratt wasn’t one to carry grudges however: ‘A great deal of fun went into it. So why grumble?’

It was inevitable that Cluedo would become a stage show. A few years back we had Part 1, and here’s the sequel (producers are keen to stress familiarity with the original isn’t necessary). This is an entirely new story, with the action moved to the 60s, though all the iconic characters – Mrs Peacock, Professor Plum, and Miss White included – are present and correct. The premise of Cluedo 2 would fit snugly on the back of a murder card: who killed rock star Rick Black (Liam Horrigan)? And where did the stoned rocker stash his millions? 

What makes this show potentially interesting is that, like the first, it’s directed by Mark Bell, who trained as a clown with the famous Jacques Lecoq School in Paris, and is well known for his impressive work with Mischief Theatre, including the original version of The Play That Went Wrong. 

And Cluedo 2 has been penned by two comedy goliaths: Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, responsible for some of the great small screen comedies of the last 40 years including Shine on Harvey Moon, Holding the Fort, Relative Strangers (to this day, C4’s most watched sitcom), Birds of a Feather, Goodnight Sweetheart and The New Statesman. They have dabbled in stage work, with Playing God, and several musicals, including the Dreamboats and Petticoats series. Yes, impressive. But are they qualified for a gig like this?

Cluedo 2. Play performed at Richmond Theatre,London, UK
Cluedo 2. Play performed at Richmond Theatre,London, UK

Parody is a specific skill, and there’s nothing in Marks and Gran’s back catalogue to indicate they’ve attempted it before. A successful parody depends on playing with the tropes, cliches and caricatures of a particular genre. Tom Stoppard is a master of the art, even when he adds a twist: in The Real Inspector Hound, two critics sit in the audience, commenting on the show they are watching but the drama itself is easily recognisable as an old school, country house murder mystery – something we’ve all seen countless times before. 

Here, Marks and Gran make some odd creative decisions. Setting the play in the 60s is a bad idea: a culture clash which never properly gels. The image of Colonel Mustard – a mustachioed, arrogant toff – is seared into the collective memory. So why turn him into a Stetson wearing, Texas good old boy? Reverend Green is no longer a meek and mild cleric but ‘Hal Green’, an ex-military man who served in Vietnam (and is forever being confused with singer ‘Al Green’; a joke which quickly wears itself out). 

Naturally there’s a butler but presumably rock star Rick Black (who looks like Slash from Guns ’n’ Roses, another bizarre affectation) is too tight fisted to employ a real one; it’s cheaper to hire Wadsworth (an energetic Jack Bennett), an out of work actor who thinks all of this is beneath him. Marks and Gran add a touch of Weekend at Bernie’s, with the dead rocker being moved like a farcical puppet to distract the attentions of two nosey coppers (amusing if you haven’t seen that particular movie). 

It’s good to hear the Mancunian tones of Ellie Leach (formerly Faye Windass in Coronation Street, and winner of Strictly 2023) as Miss Scarlett. This is her stage debut but unfortunately she isn’t given a great deal to do. Overall, Cluedo 2 only comes to life in fits and starts. Some of the most inventive bits are entirely the work of Bell: actors ‘static running’ down a long hallway, stage hands holding up passing paintings; Miss Scarlett beating off assailants in a slow motion fight; a game of billiards on an upside down table.

Finally! The comedy cranks into high gear during the last 20 minutes, with things becoming pleasingly anarchic, as motives, surprises and bodies pile up. Cast, writers and crew earn a third star on the basis of this final stretch. A mixed affair, overall, but I’ll still chance my arm with Cluedo 3.

Cluedo 2 is at The Lowry, Salford from 2 to 6 April 2024.

Steve Timms
Written by
Steve Timms

Steve Timms grew up in Oldham and studied Theatre at the University of Huddersfield. He has written for several publications including City Life, The Big Issue, Litro. Little White Lies and Storgy. He is the author of several plays including Detox Mansion, American Beer, and Temp/Casual (staged at Contact Theatre in 2011). He is a recipient of the Peggy Ramsay award.

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Steve Timms Written by Steve Timms