Cleudo makes it to the stage – a show of laughter and inevitable death
Cluedo has been a stalwart of family life since the Hasbro board game – which celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2024 – was launched at the end of the 40s.
Then, in 1985, Clue, The Movie, directed and written by Jonathan Lynn, was a big hit when it was released. Fast forward to 2022 and a stage production of the film, based on Lynn’s original script, toured the UK.
Now comes Cluedo 2 – The Next Chapter. And it couldn’t be in better hands.
This latest five-month UK theatre tour kicks off in Richmond on February 29, 2024 and visits more than 20 venues across the length and breadth of the country, including Shrewsbury and Malvern before starring in Birmingham at the end of July.
With an original new story set in the Swinging Sixties, featuring The Honourable Mrs Emerald Peacock, Colonel Eugene Mustard, ‘Professor’ Alex Plum, Miss Annabel Scarlett, the ‘Reverend’ Hal Green and the housekeeper, Mrs White, Cluedo 2 is a riotous spoof, a comedy thriller.
It is penned by the BAFTA Award- winning TV writing duo, Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, whose numerous credits include Birds of a Feather, Goodnight Sweetheart and Dreamboats and Petticoats. Like Cluedo 1, it’s directed by Mark Bell, director of the worldwide hit, The Play That Goes Wrong.
Laurence and Maurice didn’t have to think twice about accepting the offer of writing a brand-new murder mystery.
Says Laurence: “I think the producers felt that Maurice and I had a pretty good grip on the 60s which is when they wanted the play to be set somewhere in England.”
But where to begin? “We remembered,” says Maurice, “that rock stars were moving into big country houses in the late-60s so we dreamed up a rock ‘n’ roll superstar with a Mockney accent and then constructed a cast to include his wife, his agent, his interior decorator, his butler, his jack-of-all-trades and so on, all of them with colourful names. Someone is going to die and then so is someone else.
“But whodunnit? The challenge was to make audiences laugh, make them keep guessing and make them occasionally gasp out loud while keeping it clean with no swearwords – something, in fact, for the whole family.”
Fine but how do two people write one script? “We both sit at a keyboard, side by side,” says Laurence, “trading lines. By that stage, we pretty much know what we’re going to write. There have been endless arguments along the way but they’ve mostly been resolved by the time we start tapping away. Roughly speaking, we’re following a map we’ve already drawn.”
Before she died, PD James revealed in a radio interview that she didn’t begin writing her intricate murder mysteries until the last piece of the jigsaw was firmly in place in her mind. By contrast, Jackie Collins, albeit writing in a different genre, would sit down at her desk, open a yellow legal pad, pick up a pen and then let her characters, she said, take her on a journey.
Where do we find Laurence and Maurice on that spectrum? “If the cast takes you on a journey,” says Laurence, “you can be pretty sure you’ve got a hit show. That happened to us with one of our first sitcoms, Shine on Harvey Moon, and certainly with Birds of a Feather where the characters, as it were, were talking to us and by Page 8 and we couldn’t keep up with what they were saying.”
Pauline Quirke and Linda Robson were born to play Sharon and Tracey. “But as soon as Lesley Joseph made her entrance as Dorien Green, their larger-than-life neighbour – who brought sex, adventure and happiness into their lives” says Maurice, “we knew we were in trouble. She just took over, a force of nature.” Birds turned into Laurence and Maurice’s biggest hit, with more than 120 episodes broadcast, first, on the BBC and then on ITV.
With Cluedo 2, they think, the challenge has been different, more to do with the mechanics of making a murder mystery work than what individual characters say. “If you’re writing a book like PD James or Jackie Collins,” says Maurice, “you’re not bound by the restrictions of a stage play. In the theatre, the physical constraints force you to be more creative and find interesting ways of solving problems.”
Laurence and Maurice, two north London boys, met at a Jewish youth club when they were 10. They’re both 74 now. They originally earned their comedy spurs by writing gags for Frankie Howerd before going on to become among the most successful writing duos working today with a string of hits to their name – everything from Holding the Fort with Peter Davison and Patricia Hodge to The New Statesman with Rik Mayall and Love Hurts with Adam Faith and Zoe Wanamaker.
When it came to it, they learned their stagecraft, they reveal, under the tutelage of acclaimed playwright Alan Ayckbourn. “And no one knows more about the theatre than him,” says Laurence. “I’ll never forget him saying that we knew how to make people laugh and how to create characters. All he could teach us, he said, was how to get the blighters on and off the stage.”
Laurence originally met the great man at the Hay Literary Festival in the early 90s where he complimented the duo on their sitcom, Goodnight Sweetheart. In 2005, he and Maurice finally wrote their first play, Playing God, about a dying rock star, which Ayckbourn staged at his Stephen Joseph theatre in Scarborough. They got bitten by the bug; hence accepting this latest challenge.
“Although we were getting 17 million viewers watching Birds, we never saw any of them. But there’s nothing to beat the feeling of sitting in an audience of 700+ people and they’re all laughing. I think that’s why Cluedo 2 is going to be such a rewarding adventure,” says Laurence.
And they weren’t starting entirely from scratch. “We had the well-established Hasbro board game as a sort of blueprint,” says Maurice, “but, unlike PD James, we didn’t have a bunch of murders, 15 suspects, 203 red herrings and a policeman who writes poetry all firmly fixed in our heads.”
Rehearsals start in the new year and that’s when any tweaks, they agree, will be made. “And, of course, the play remains malleable beyond opening night. Sometimes, what works on the page simply doesn’t on the stage but you can’t always know that in advance.”
They well recall their first foray into writing Dreamboats and Petticoats for the late Bill Kenwright, a jukebox musical featuring songs from the late 50s and early 60s. “I remember him sitting us down and giving us a long lecture,” says Laurence. “He explained that he’d lost a lot of money on his last five productions but that he knew this was going to be a huge hit. We weren’t so sure but, in the event, he was right.”
So, what are the prospects for Cluedo 2? “Well, it’s a good, funny script with elements of farce,” says Maurice. “It also ticks the boxes in that lots of people die in lots of interesting ways. We’ve managed to find inventive uses for the weapons associated with the board game – the spanner, the lead piping, the candlestick and so on.
“But we’ve been at pains not to regard this new departure as merely the continuation of an established brand, however successful that may have been on film and on stage. What we’re hoping is that this will be a standalone great night out in the theatre.”
The play will be at Shrewsbury's Theatre Severn from April 23-26 and The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, from July 23-27. It will also be at Malvern Theatre from April 30 to May 4.