Who killed Dr Black? Who cares? Not me: I was laughing too much!

February 7, 2018

I laughed so much, not only do I not care, but I want to go back tomorrow and see who does it then…

That is one of the great joys of this play: the murderer will change each night!

Murder most funny! I’m sorry I haven’t a clue…who did it because I was too busy laughing out loud at the serious business of comedy that poured off the stage at Farlington School last night.

We are used to superb performances from the incredibly talented Farlington girls but under the brilliant direction and guidance of Director Emma Spires, they have hit another level for me. The fact that ‘Cluedo’ was a totally devised performance testifies to the confidence and true team spirit the Senior School girls have developed. Whilst devised drama is part of every examination at GCSE and A level, it is far more unusual for casts to devise unique drama for a show. It is much safer for them to rely on the professional skills of a published scriptwriter. What they do not get with a scripted performance, however, is what we witnessed last night: young performers revelling in the freedom to craft and genuinely ‘own’ their character.

The play is based on the old Christmas board-game staple, Cluedo. We saw Miss Scarlett, Colonel Mustard, et al, brought to glorious technicolor 1920s life. To be fair we saw them come to life… and then get involved in a murder. To be frank, it become clear that not only did Dr Black probably deserve to die, several others on stage deserved the same fate. But I digress…

The play opened with the wedding of Dr Black (Lauren Elliott) and the gloriously American Miss White; sadly Dr Black was quickly dispatched but, as ever with the board-game, the question was: who did the dispatching? (It was perhaps a blessing that Lauren was released from her performance on stage as, in her role as Stage Manager, she rules calmly backstage, working with Millie Bubb and Lucy Pocock to ensure all stage changes are seamless.)

But back to the question of ‘Who dunnit?’ Was it the awful American herself, played with aplomb by Millie Jewry, it was clear she certainly was not the innocent creature her colour suggested…

Then it could have been Reverend Green, portrayed with maturity and confidence by Caitlin Ruddy. He has a deep, dark secret… (well, actually not much of a secret because everybody knows about it) and could kill rather than be defrocked or shamed…

But it could equally be the wonderfully ghastly Mrs Peacock, played with haughty grandeur by Amber Dale. Then again Lady Lavender can hardly be dismissed – in fact she actually attempts the murder of her fraudulent friend who sees the future (except not her own near-demise) Madame Rose. Kira Hyde and Ellen Cherriman worked really well together throughout the evening in these roles.

The younger generation are not much better than their elders. Miss Peach (Amelia Bell) and Miss Meadow-Brook (Ria Huck) could be better named Miss Sour Crab Apple and Miss Poison Ditch, such is their nastiness; they took verbal pot shots at each other all night to the delight of the audience.

The servants more than matched their ‘betters’ (or rather not-betters) for entertainment value. Megan Rimer played the trusty butler Hogarth with gravity that suited the role perfectly. Gracie Wilkinson, as Mrs Gray the cook, and Amelia Wright as Rusty Nayler, the gardener, were entertaining as always. These two can always make an audience laugh out loud but showed that they can also portray darker characters too.

My memories of playing Cluedo seem to centre on Miss Scarlett and Colonel Mustard. I am not sure why… I think I secretly wanted to be the glamorous, dangerous siren that is Miss Scarlett and Bertie Dale is dangerous glamour personified. Bertie clearly delighted in the role, which she played with every single part of her body and soul. I do not think I have ever seen anyone enjoy being nasty quite so much!

As for Colonel and Mrs Mustard, the partnership of Ella Jones and Ellie Crouch as Mrs and Colonel Mustard is a dream combination. They bounced beautifully off each other and were one of two superb comic duos of the evening. (Ellie, as Colonel Mustard, was perhaps channelling a little bit of Prince Philip, but it worked!)

The other comic duo was, of course, Watson and Holmes. Now purists of the board-game might point out that Holmes and Watson do not feature in the game: well, just because the creators of Cluedo did not have the vision to do that does not mean that it is an absolutely perfect crime for them to investigate and solve. So back to Watson (Bibi de Bruijn) and Holmes (Meg Savage) – they were the lynchpin team that held the plot together. They were, however, far more than simply that. They worked so skilfully off each other and team-tagged in a way professional wrestlers would be proud of; it was sheer delight. We were clearly in capable hands, so could sit back and delight in the dastardly deeds and dreadful roll call of characters. My favourite part of the evening was the ‘it could have happened like this’ when Holmes and Watson acted out how the murders could have happened. (Well, my absolutely favourite part was all the short jokes made by tall Holmes about small(er) Watson, but this came a close second.)

The depth of characterisation was clear when, as we were waiting for the second act to begin, Holmes and Watson wandered through the audience quizzing us on our whereabouts on the night of the murder and how we knew Dr Black. A fabulous way of ensuring audience participation, as was allowing the audience to guess the culprit during the interval. Mrs Spires handed Holmes an envelope at the end of the second act which named the killer who stepped forward to then confess and explain. Apparently any member of the cast can be named as the murderer and all have their confession ready to go, should it be their name in the envelope. The cast find out at the same time as the audience! (Professional playwright Alan Ayckbourn has successfully used a similar device to keep his cast upon their toes!)

This was not a realistic detective ‘Whodunnit’: it was instead a wonderful parody of one. It took the idea of stock characters and brought caricatures to glorious life. It was a marvellous marriage of comedy and murder in the best tradition of British sophisticated comedy.

Only the clueless would miss the chance to see this superb piece of devised delight a second time.

Jane Williams