Stage Door Review 2024


Monday, March 25, 2024


by Sandy Rustin, directed by Dennis Garnhum

Grand Theatre London & Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, Grand Theatre, London

March 15-31, 2024

Wadsworth: “Let the game begin”

If you want to see what has been causing sold-out houses at the Grand Theatre to be doubled over in laughter for the past week, just buy tickets, if you can get them, to the play Clue, running until March 31. Clue, a co-production of the Grand Theatre and the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, is written by American author Sandy Rustin and based on the screenplay to the 1985 movie Clue, itself based on the popular board game of the same name first launched in North America in 1949. While the subject matter of the play may be that of a murder mystery, the style and form of the play is pure farce. The play, directed by former grand Theatre Artistic Director Dennis Garnhum, is acted in a very broad comedic style by a first-rate cast and staged on the most magnificent set ever seen at the Grand Theatre.

The board game Clue was inspired by a subgenre of detective fiction known as the country house murder. This type of murder mystery, said to have been invented by Agatha Christie in her novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920), involves the gathering of a closed circle of suspects in an isolated country house. A murder occurs and because of the house’s isolation the detective and the suspects know that one of the closed circle must be the murderer. The most famous country house murder is Christie’s own And Then There Were None (1939), which Christie herself adapted for the stage in 1943.

In the board game a Mr. Boddy has been murdered by one of six guests in his country house. There is no outside detective. Instead, the six guests must investigate the crime themselves. The first one to solve the murder wins by correctly stating who did it, with which one of six possible murder weapons and in which one of nine possible rooms.

In Rustin’s play, the mysterious Mr. Boddy has invited six guests to dinner at his country manor, now isolated since the bridge over the river has washed out in the raging storm that continues throughout the play. The six guests correspond to the six colour-coded characters of the game – Mr. Green, Colonel Mustard, Mrs. Peacock, Professor Plum, Miss Scarlet and Mrs. White. Unlike the game, however, we meet Mr. Boddy while alive along with his butler Wadsworth, his maid Yvette and his cook. During the course of the play’s 90 minutes, nine more characters other than those already named make an appearance which suggests that the supposedly isolated country house is really not so isolated.

As in the game it still falls upon the six colour-coded characters to solve the murder of Mr. Boddy, but unlike the game they are aided by Wadsworth and to a lesser extent by Yvette. Also unlike the game, Mr. Boddy’s murder is only one of many.

The game board for Clue is a map of Boddy Manor featuring nine rooms – the study, the hall, the lounge, the library, the billiard room, the dining room, the conservatory, the ballroom and the kitchen. The play shows us the doorways to the billiard room and the ballroom but requires the full depiction of the seven other rooms. This presents a major challenge for a designer.

At present the production of Clue first presented by the Cleveland Playhouse in 2020 is on tour across the United States. That tour uses double-sided push-on sets to represent the seven rooms. For Clue now playing in London, Brian Perchaluk has come up with a brilliant and much more spectacular solution. He places all of Boddy Manor on a 30-foot-diameter revolve on stage with the outside walls stripped off. The mansion is three storeys tall (the third storey is stationary) so that we see two rooms at a time, one above the other, and is 29 feet tall, which is just under the size of a real three-storey house. There is a staircase outside the revolve and a hidden interior staircase that actors use to move between the first and second floors. The main rooms on the first floor are the hall, the lounge, the dining room and the library. The main rooms on the second floor are the second storey of the hall, the library and the conservatory plus the dormer of a bedroom. For a scene in the kitchen, the interior of the dining room is replaced with the kitchen interior. In a play, which like the game, consists so much in moving from room to room, Perchaluk’s set takes away the tedium and changes it to delight.

The audience gasped and then applauded when the house made its first rotation as the guests, after arriving in the hall, walked into the lounge. The applause was fully justified since Perchaluk’s set is the grandest, most elaborate and most ingenious ever seen on the stage of the Grand Theatre. Farce is not about character development but about who is doing what where and is like a great machine where, after much confusion, all falls into place at the end. The game Clue is all about who used what where, which makes it a perfect vehicle for farce. Perchaluk’s moving set is literally the perfect vehicle for staging the play Clue since the actors’ movements must be integrated with the set’s turning, thus emphasizing the mechanical nature of the farce and enhancing its excitement.

To stage the play on Perchaluk’s moving set requires maximum precision in blocking. An actor can’t walk into a room until it’s ready and can’t step onto a room on the second floor until it’s there. Garnhum has drilled the cast so expertly that the actors’ movements in, around and through the set seem perfectly natural. One of the most delightful paradoxes of the play Clue is that the actors have to act out a descent into confusion and chaos with the utmost precision for the play to work.

Not only is there a balletic aspect to the complex choreography of movement in Clue, but there is also a musical quality in the actors’ speech. The frequent cases of simultaneous screaming and of group babbling must be precisely timed.

Also, for the play to work, the entire ensemble must employ a uniform style of acting, or here of overacting so that we know not to look for realism in the performances. The prime exception to this rule is the character of the butler Wadsworth, who is encouraged to go as far over the top as possible, and, by the end, Jesse Gervais is so far over the top he is in the clouds. Part of the fun of the play is seeing how the Gervais’s style of acting as Wadsworth evolves. Gervais begins by overplaying the staid hauteur of the butler, but gradually as the bodies pile up, Gervais ups his manner of portraying Wadsworth’s surprise and delirium until, during his long monologue at the end he breaks the fourth wall, and directly addresses and interacts with the audience.

Gervais’s deliberate rise over the top has the strange but comic effect of making the other actors’ overplaying look subdued by comparison. The other actors know they are playing caricatures and there are sound and lighting cues used to underscore every suspicious reference they make. I have seen Beau Dixon in both serious plays and musicals, but this is the first time I’ve seen him play comedy and he proves to be expert in that genre too. Dixon is excellent at conveying the curious mix of self-importance and dimwittedness of Colonel Mustard, who frequently misinterprets what other people say.

Sharon Bajer plays Mrs. Peacock rather as if the character was Mrs. Hen in that she so often squawks when screaming or laughing. Bajer uses a grating voice for speaking to contrast with Mrs. Peacock’s would-be refined appearance. The character is imagined as a Conservative Christian who proudly states when offered a drink that her lips belong to God. Yet, soon enough, we find that Peacock keeps a flask in her purse and Bajer delectably delineates the woman’s gradual decline into drunkenness.

Reena Jolly is seductive as Miss Scarlet, a city madam, who drily makes double entendres throughout the action. Jolly has Scarlet retain her cool no matter what happens probably because Scarlet has more experience of the weirdness of the world than anyone else.

Petrina Bromley is a haughty Mrs. White. Perchaluk has clad her all in black because White has been widowed five times under mysterious circumstances. Bromley has White comically try to maintain her air of hauteur even as the more unsavoury aspects of her life come to light. Derek Scott is very funny as a psychiatrist Professor Plum, who, as a doctor, is called upon numerous times to pronounce an obviously deceased person as dead. Toby Hughes is amusing as the nervous, nerdy Mr. Green, who jumps and spills drinks at the slightest noise.

Rustin in adapting the movie script has set the action in a specific time and place – 1954 in Washington, DC, at the height of the McCarthy hearings. Farces can’t bear too much historical importance, but the setting does place the characters in a period many people had to pay blackmail to keep their secrets hidden. Premiering on stage in 2020, Rustin’s play shows us a world of lies and fear in the funhouse mirror of a farce and allows us to laugh at an atmosphere of heightened tension that is otherwise so disturbing. This production of Clue is such a pleasure I do hope that it returns to London. Knowing the ending, I would still like to see how cleverly the complex plot works out. And Perchaluk’s set is such a masterpiece of imagination and ingenuity, I hope it inspires other companies to rent it to stage the play.

Christopher Hoile

Photos: Cast of Clue, © 2024 Dahlia Katz; (back row) Beau Dixon as Colonel Mustard, Derek Scott as Professor Plum, Toby Hughes as Mr. Green, (front row) Reena Jolly as Miss Scarlet, Petrina Bromley as Mrs. White and Sharon Bajer as Mrs. Peacock, © 2024 Dylan Hewlett; set for Clue with Jesse Gervais as Wadsworth. © 2024 Dahlia Katz; Toby Hughes as Mr. Green, Sharon Bajer as Mrs. Peacock, Derek Scott as Professor Plum, Petrina Bromley as Mrs. White and Reena Jolly as Miss Scarlet, © 2024 Dahlia Katz.

For tickets visit: