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Published on Saturday, 29 August 2009

I have to admit I'm quite a fan of the board game Cluedo, and I have sometimes thought how the events behind it might occur in real life. But it doesn't take long to realise it's very hard to stay truly faithful to the game - I can't see even the most amateur sleuth failing to differentiate between injuries caused by a knife and a lead pipe. It seems the obvious option is a Sherlock Holmes style murder mystery plot surrounding the six Cluedo characters. And that’s what this production offers, with a further twist... it's a musical.

The set and costume designers did an admirable job capturing the mood of the game. Despite each character being colour co-ordinated, the costumes (coloured wigs aside) were all perfectly reasonable. When they were not centre-stage, each character would stay frozen on a different black cube, labelled with Cluedo room. The whole set-up nicely captured the feels of pieces on a game board.

But to be brutally honest, this didn’t work as a musical. With the possible exception of Mrs. White, none of the cast were especially strong singers, and most the lyrics were either sung in seven-part unison or spoken at pitch. The songs too seemed to forget the rest of the musical was a tense murder mystery. Their music and lyrics wouldn't have been out of place in a Gilbert and Sullivan comic operetta.

It is no coincidence then, that the best part of Cluedo - the last fifteen minutes - had no music. Stripping away the songs, you had in essence a classic detective story; and without the musical distraction, the whole thing became instantly more captivating. There were also the final plot twists to add further intrigue and interest… if only the first hour or so had been like that.

In my view, the most important ingredient of any detective story, from Agatha Christie to CSI, is an interesting detective. We've been so saturated to crime dramas in literature, film and television that most of the audience probably worked out the killer long before they were fully revealed. Watching how the crime is solved is usually more interesting that finding out who committed the crime.

That's why even without the music, Cluedo was still hampered by a sadly miscast Inspector, who needed to bring more stage presence to carry off the role. Even if it did perhaps make sense in the plot for Inspector Cluedo to be quite naïve and uncharismatic, it didn't make for a compelling show. And sadly, that's what’s most important.

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