Directors notes on Cluedo (From the show program).

A new British play, based on an American play, based on an American film, based on a British board game.

When Josh Andrews (Producer, Kilimanjaro Theatricals) first asked me if I would be interested in directing Cluedo, my first thought was about the game itself. I hadn’t played it for years, but suddenly had a strong urge to get hold of the thing and have a go. I found an original 1949 board online and bought it, even though some of the weapons where a bit broken and the notes pads mostly filled in (a fully working one would have cost an arm and a leg and I was still waiting on a contract…). But when it arrived, this evidence of it having been used, played with, enjoyed years before I was even born was very powerful, even moving. I realised that the games and its characters were somehow clear in my consciousness as if I was constantly playing it, which I hadn’t been since I was little. Also, the candlestick been broken seemed clear evidence of foul play. I was in.

Of course, the other thing that attracted me to the play was Sandy Rustin’s wonderful script, which made me laugh and also scratch my head as I tried to figure out on first reading who the murderer actually was. I did however have a strong feeling that our version of the show needed to be set in the UK rather than just outside Washington DC as the US version is. As I said the board game is part of our collective history and to me it felt very connected to the Agatha Christie country Manor murder mystery that we all feel we know, even if we have never read or seen one!

So, the first thing was to ‘Britishise’ the script. I moved the action from 1950’s Washington State to 1949 Home Counties and the Lynskey Tribunal investigating government corruption replaced the McCarthy witch-hunts in the USA. While not as extreme as what was happening in America and indeed of a different nature, Sir George Lynskey’s report of 1949 detailed Government corruption and criminal activity around bypassing rationing regulations - a Minister and a Director of the Bank of England lost their jobs and barely escaped prison. One rule for us… The ‘mastermind’ who called himself Sidney Stanley was hounded from the country. This certainly had people looking over their shoulders if they too were guilty of ‘indiscretions….’, which pretty much all of our well-known characters are!

After that is was a matter of making the dialogue more 1940’s British and returning certain characters to their UK roots – Mr Green became Reverend Green for example. There was also quite a lot of dialogue and plot rewriting to make the script fit its new British home. Or is it its old British home?

And we of course have to bear in mind the cult film Clue on which the play script is based. I loved the feel of the film and how Sandy in her introduction to the play text invites the us to “embrace the style and find their own moments of comic physicality”. So, staying true to the style of both the film and US play, while channelling the influence of the great British murder mystery genre we set out to create our version of Cluedo, based on a film, based on a board game and to make it a gripping murder mystery while making an exciting, joyful comedy.

I was lucky enough to be able to get an amazing creative team – David Farley (Design and Costume Design), Warren Lefton (Lighting), Jon Fiber ( Sound Design) and Anna Healey (Movement Director) who right from the first (online) meeting were throwing amazing ideas into the mix and getting me a bit over excited. Add to this the amazing cast I was lucky enough to secure the services of, who also brought so much to the process of making this show and we were all set! It has indeed been exciting and joyful for us, we hope it is for you too.

But one question remains… Whodunit?

Mark Bell

January 2022