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by on 11 August 2022

Clued Up

Clue: on Stage

by Sandy Rustin, adapted from a screenplay by Jonathan Lynn

YAT at the Coward Room, Hampton Hill Theatre until 13th August

Review by Andrew Lawston

Anyone who has seen Jonathan Lynn’s 1985 film, or who has spent a rainy weekend playing board games, will have a fair idea what to expect from Clue, Sandy Rustin’s comedy thriller based on the famous Waddingtons’ board game.  But YAT’s youthful and energetic cast breathe new vitality into the old favourite, resulting in a highly enjoyable couple of hours of madcap theatre.

Hampton Hill Theatre’s Noel Coward Room is transformed into Boddy Manor, with a minimalist set consisting mostly of a chandelier and a map of the mansion on the back wall.  Furniture is wheeled in and out by a slick backstage team, all dressed as domestic staff to maintain the illusion.  In one corner, a radio announcer discusses McCarthyism, setting the play firmly in 1950s America.

Against the traditional backdrop of a dark and stormy night, a diverse group of individuals with somewhat iconic names are due to arrive at the country house.  Each with something to hide, and each intensely suspicious of the others.

The cast is led by Alfie Kennedy’s suave butler Wadsworth, who initially welcomes the visitors to Boddy Manor.  Kennedy gives a ferociously committed and often entertainingly physical performance, throwing himself around the stage one moment, and relishing the character’s dry sense of humour the next, with more than a slight hint of Tom Hiddleston about him.

Crucially, however, while Kennedy commands the audience while speaking, he also steps back to allow the other characters to shine as the suspects and servants arrive at Boddy Manor, and Clue becomes more of an ensemble piece as it develops.

Olivia Meades plays Yvette the Maid, and her French accent couldn’t help reminding me of her namesake in BBC sitcom ‘Allo ‘Allo!  Her cheery demeanour is immediately contrasted with Bonny Ward’s dour Cook.  As each character enters, subtly dressed in their appropriate colour by Sarah Dowd, Liz Lattimore and Emily Moss’s wardrobe team, they get a few moments to act as suspiciously as possible, and the audience gets a first sample of their American accents.

Daniel Burley’s decidedly southern Colonel Mustard arrives first, and his bluff delivery and outrageous moustache quickly set the tone.  Serial widow Mrs White, played by Meaghan Baxter in one of the more subtle performances, quickly joins him and sets about reacting suspiciously to the domestic staff.

Grace Allen has a more challenging job portraying politician’s wife Mrs Peacock.  Her character is referred to as “older” several times within the play, and Allen therefore has to play far older than her years.  She pulls this off wonderfully, though as events escalate and the entire cast dashes around the stage, there is little time to maintain the illusion of age.

Daniel Siner’s Mr Green, a self-declared homosexual and possible Communist, is another very strong performance from a capable physical actor, and Siner also entertains during the occasional ‘slow-motion’ action scenes.

Professor Plum, a shady pipe-smoking doctor who is very bad at identifying dead bodies, is played with great smoothness by Arthur Holmes, while Kaitlin Swan vamps it up as the vivacious Miss Scarlet.

The main cast all relish their witty dialogue, and spark off each other brilliantly during the ensemble dinner scenes, to the extent that it’s almost a shame when the murders start, the stakes begin to rise, and the characters split into smaller groups to explore Boddy Manor for clues.

If the first half was heavy on witty dialogue, the second half opens with a bang as the characters explore the house.  Colonel Mustard entertains with a series of commando rolls, while Professor Plum turns cartwheels and Mrs White piggybacks on Wadsworth.  These more physical scenes highlight the exuberance and energy of this young cast.

To ensure a regular supply of fresh murders, Boddy Manor is visited by a police officer (Michael Langton), as well as a motorist and the “singing telegram” (both played by Stella Oliver) that you may remember from the film version, who are all dispatched in short order.  Giothomson Nickson turns in a variety of lively performances as Mr Boddy himself, domestic staff, and a more significant role at the play’s climax.

Directors Sarah Dowd and Elizabeth Lattimore keep the frenetic pace up constantly, and the cast must finish each performance completely exhausted.  It’s little surprise that they keep the energy levels high, however, as Dowd and Lattimore are also variously responsible for the set design (with producer and stage manager Jenna Powell), sound, costume (with assistant stage manager Emily Moss), and hair and make-up.

Despite the physical comedy aspects, Clue is an extremely wordy play, which requires sharp comic timing from its cast.  YAT’s actors never fall short, and deliver an extremely entertaining presentation of an old favourite, thoroughly enjoyed by the whole audience. presentation of an old favourite, thoroughly enjoyed by the whole audience.

Andrew Lawston, August 2022

Photography by Jonathan Constant Photography

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