It was a dark and stormy night in the 1943 when English musician Anthony E. Pratt conceptualized the delightfully devious game, Clue. Well, it likely wasn’t actually dark and stormy and more so dull, as Pratt is said to have conceived the idea during air-raid blackouts of WWII as a way to pass time. The game was inspired by a parlour game from the pre-war parties he so desperately missed.
The premise? Six colourful characters race to catch Mr Boddy’s killer by determining the murderer, weapon and location. Originally named Murder and known as Cluedo (a portmanteau of the words clue and ludo, which means “I play” in Latin) in the UK, Clue turns its players into deductive detectives and suspicious suspects all working to answer the question “Whodunnit?”.
The first patent for the game featured ten characters and nine weapons but was widdled down to the iconic six characters and six weapons we know today: Miss Scarlet, Mrs White, Mrs Peacock, Professor Plum, Mr Green and Colonel Mustard who may or may not have wielded a knife, revolver, rope, wrench, candlestick or a lead pipe. As for the murder location, it could have happened in the Hall, Lounge, Dining Room, Kitchen, Ballroom, Conservatory, Billiard Room, Library or Study, all the rooms you would expect in an ominous mansion.
The game, after an initial lull in sales, was well-received across the globe, sparking a 1985 movie of the same name. The fast-paced farce featured three different endings with different suspects being outed as the killer. Originally flummoxed by the request to turn Clue into a movie, because the boardgame “has no story”, Jonathan Lynn still agreed to join the project, co-writing and directing the film. Looking back on making a movie out of a relatively thin source material, Lynn said, “You could make a good movie or a shitty one, based on anything."
A mysterious dinner party and colour-based pseudonyms set the stage for the blackmail-fuelled whodunit. The motion picture featured industry heavy hitters such as Christopher Lloyd whose blockbuster success Back to the Future released the same year, Madeline Kahn and Tim Curry, who was no stranger to cult classics. Curry, often pointed to as the campy heart of the movie, was actually the director’s third choice for the uptight Wadsworth. Thankfully, in the end, Curry took on the iconic role further cementing himself as a cult classic champion.
On December 13, 1985, Clue was released in theatres with each theatre receiving a cut of the movie with one of three endings… and it flopped. We mean really and truly flopped. The film received a poor response from critics and movie-goers alike, netting less in the box office than its $15 million budget. But like every true cult it rose from the ashes of harsh public opinion.
Clue’s failure in the box office helped springboard it into a more accessible medium: cable television. When looking to fill non-peak time slots, the inexpensive movie proved to be a great choice for programmers. With no cussing and a fully clothed cast, the film was, albeit unintentionally, a perfect fit for TV. This is where, in the 90s, a younger generation watching late night TV, was able to discover the farce. Not tainted by the collective knowledge of the movie’s perceived shortcomings, they loved it.
When it came time to adapt Clue for the stage, playwright Sandy Rustin described the project as a “puzzle”. She needed to balance the demands of translating the show into the new, live medium while honouring what fans loved about the original film.
To keep the fast-paced, nonstop feeling of the film, Rustin knew pacing was of the utmost importance. She likens the show to a train, and not a slow one at that, with no appropriate stopping point to allow an intermission. The train must keep moving, resulting in a 90 minute show, with straight-through action, laughs and suspense. Heightening the urgency and immediacy of the play, the quickfire dialogue and physical comedy and will be sure to invoke a nostalgic response from fans.
This fall, gather the family for game night or head to the Royal MTC Mainstage production of Clue from Oct 17 – November 11, to find out whodunnit in person. Tickets available at RoyalMTC.ca.