Start with a proscenium arch. On stage there’s a 1950s drawing room with a dozen characters in smart suits and loud dresses. Sigh. This is going to be staid old fashioned theatre, isn’t it? Oh no it isn’t!
This is grand quality farce meets stonking satire. But there’s a serious side too.
‘Clue On Stage’ is set in the USA during the McCarthy witch hunts. Un-American activities and communism were strictly off the menu. False truths weren’t invented during COVID-19.
It starts with a polite dinner party in a mansion down the road from Washington DC. The elite are arriving in their smart colour-coded garb. Mrs White and Mr Green, Mrs Peacock and Professor Plum. They sound like characters from a Christmas parlour game don’t they? Yes exactly! The plot is based on a mishmash of that kids’ board game Cluedo (invented by Anthony E Pratt) and a 1985 film Clue (directed by Jonathan Lynn).
All the guests have something to hide. Blackmail or coercion are all the rage. But there seems to be an awful lot of deaths coming out of a simple house party with cocktails and dinner.
Don’t go into the library. Don’t go upstairs. But definitely don’t go down to the cellar!
Mutinous lies and bloody ties and what a lot of murders for the time of year and especially this evening. Well, who would have thought that among the US elite? Who are you accusing?
“I didn’t do anything unproper.” No? Hypocrisy and lies and double twists in the plot. Complexity not simplicity. But don’t be the guy who stumbles up the driveway to this mansion in the dark because his car’s broken down. You know the trope.
Clever. Quick. Devious and ironic. It’s persecution with pants down and knives in the back. Beautifully exposed satire.
Some folks say the site for this wicked and twisted plot was based on a mansion house in Rottingdean. But it certainly seems a long way from cream teas and suntan on the shingle.
Julian Batstone’s direction hits exactly the right note between seriousness, tomfoolery and excellent drama. But the stage management (Gaby Bowring) and lighting and design (Martin Oakley) provide the steady bassline behind the 11-strong cast. Doing silly on stage is never easy but this production finds a perfect balance. But too many words? Possibly.
The Barn Theatre in Southwick, which opened in 1951, is only 15 minutes across the county line from Brighton Station. There was a full house of over a hundred people and a cute bar. Local lad, Attila the Stockbroker, would laugh his head off at this caper. You’ll certainly get taken for an excellent ride if other productions from the Wick Theatre Company are like this.
McCarthy wouldn’t like it.