The Drum Theatre, Dandenong
18 to 20 May
I drove to Dandenong last night to attend the opening night of Escapees Theatre Company’s production of Clue. Whenever one adapts a cult classic film for the stage, audience opinions are relatively divided because the original material is more often than not, beloved by its fans, leaving the stage adaptation either acclaimed for its new, crafty take or ridiculed for messing with the original too much. When it came to me witnessing and reviewing this show, I really felt up for a bit of a challenge as the original 1985 film based on the Parker Brothers board game is one of my all time favourite comedy movies and I was nervous to see which side of the audience I would be on when the curtain closed. This time around, I found myself leaning towards the acclamation side as the entire company managed to not only introduce this hilarious whodunit to a brand new 21st century audience but remind us die hard fans why we fell in love with the movie in the first place.
Every whodunit mystery that comes to life on the stage or through any other medium has its mastermind and Escapees found theirs in the form of director Alexandra Davis and her assistant director Rebecca Dissegna. Together, both ladies constructed a spectacle that found the perfect balance of goofy and grand comedy that didn’t find their players constantly fishing for laughs from the audience but instead, let the comic timing come naturally for everyone to enjoy without relying heavily on the film actors’ characterisations. Through illustrative and illuminating backdrop projections reminiscent of masterpieces by famous artists that blended the board game with the live action, Davis and Dissegna formed a vision that placed the audience right into the heart of the deadly game itself whether it was through its high class mansion the story occurs in or the 1950s McCarthyist era its set in. You really felt like you were playing alongside the characters and seeing the mystery unfold in a triumphant and treasurable directorial effort that you couldn’t help but laugh along with.
Usually, thespians will play it safe and stick to portraying cult-classic characters that have become adored by multiple cinephiles in their original presentation but sometimes, the actors will lay out an original design for their performances to make their respective roles all their own. The latter is exactly what we successfully received from the entire company whether they were villains, viscounts or victims but first, credit is due for the “ensemble” performers, Rebecca O’Connor, Scott Kinsey, Etana Uili and Luke Holland and the show’s pianist Mabh Torr. It didn’t matter how big or small their roles were, if they were on the right or wrong side of the law or simply just accompanying everyone on the piano to set each scene, their intriguing and integral dedication to their roles shined through and proved their roles were just as important as the leads.
Speak of the devil, the leads consisted of the evening’s suspects, the original six characters in the Cluedo board game and two new characters introduced in the film and instead of relying on the source material, all of whom created a characterisation all of its own. First, we have Abigail Howley, Sophia Blackburn and Sharnika Takacs and their portrayals of Yvette The Maid, Miss Scarlet and Mrs. White respectively. Howley spent the rehearsal period perfecting her French accent and when she finally got to demonstrate her magic, she delivered a seductive and sultry yet sweet performance reminiscent of Babette in Beauty And The Beast where she discovered not only how to speak an almost flawless French accent but both sides of the double life her character lives throughout the play’s duration. Fresh off her successful, groundbreaking turn as Elle Woods in Escapees’ previous production of Legally Blonde, Blackburn shed her think pink attitude in favour of a temptress red. However, she steered clear of the stereotypes associated with madams and call girls like Miss Scarlet in favour of transforming her into a strong willed, no nonsense boss Lady elegantly eager to keep control in a fatal yet flattering and fleeting performance that empowers and emancipates. Takacs also had an alternative perspective to inform her portrayal of Mrs. White, who was originally portrayed by the late, great Madeline Kahn as a black widow with a deadly lure. Takacs performance, on the other hand, was a lot more frantic and frightened in the best ways possible in a more comical yet crystallized portrayal, while keeping Mrs. White’s hatred of men alive and giving a new meaning to the saying, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
Next, we were introduced to Andrew Kinsey, Stuart Rogers and James O’Brien who played the three original male suspects, Colonel Mustard, Professor Plum and Mr. Green respectively. In contrast to the wealthy and proud colonel that Martin Mull presented in the original movie, Kinsey’s quirky and quintessential portrayal was more of a dimwitted doofus but it worked so well nonetheless, as he never failed to provide riotous laughter from an audience that couldn’t help but love him regardless of his weakness for the female body. Christopher Lloyd and Michael McLean’s portrayal of Professor Plum and Mr. Green were both rather mild mannered, with Lloyd a more calm individual and McKean a more neurotic one, but their characters couldn’t have been any more different in the play. Rogers came right out the gate with fire in a performance reminiscent of a high society, preppy scumbag who sees women as mere objects and yearns for undisputed glory even when he was in the wrong, resulting in a proud and in a good way, primeval portrayal that can easily put his character work on the map. Meanwhile, O’Brien shined more of a light on Green’s clumsy side over his soft-spoken side with an added southern drawl in his voice, which was vice versa in McKean’s character work, in order to turn in a heroic and hypnotic performance that opened up so many more doors to whatever role O’Brien takes on the next time around.
Finally, we come to the king and queen of the stage in this play and this time around the crowns are given to Steve McPhail in the role of the evening’s host and trusted butler Wadsworth and Chloe Harbour in the role of world renowned game character and so much more Mrs. Peacock. In McPhail’s performance, there wasn’t a glimpse of original actor Tim Curry in sight but instead was a combination of critically acclaimed actors like Anthony Hopkins, Malcolm McDowell and Alec Guiness that took his take on Wadsworth to a whole new level of smart comedy with a splash of good old fashioned British farce. Magnificent and mesmerising all throughout, McPhail gave us the whole theatrical package all throughout that got the audience laughing, thinking and sitting on the edge of their seats for all at the same time. As for Harbour, her portrayal transformed Peacock into a skittish yet social southern belle and Senator’s wife who stooped to political lows in a blended performance similar to ones given by Olympia Dukakis in Steel Magnolias, Renée Zelwegger in Cold Mountain and Jamie Lee Curtis in Knives Out just to name a few. With upstanding and uproarious takes like this, Harbour was right in her element in this character role and reminded the amateur theatre circuit around Melbourne what a character master she truly is.
Escapees’ take on Clue is one that both die hard fans of the original film and theatre patrons newly introduced to the source material can enjoy. The company provided a night of meticulously masterminded malice that will have you dying of laughter as well as dying at the hands of the famous Cluedo murder weapons in a whodunit adventure that is filled with just as much hilarity today as it had in 1985 when the original film was released, showing our community that everything old really is new again. Special shoutout to Chloe Harbour for her outstanding and out of sight performance in the production and to the rest of the cast and crew associated with the production for a grand opening night. Clue is on for one weekend only so make sure you get your tickets to the production while they’re still up for grabs, support the company and local theatre. Congratulations Escapees, chookas for the rest of your run and finding who killed who, where and with what.
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