REVIEW: Cluedo 2. Who? The usual suspects. With? More swagger than dagger. Where? York Theatre Royal, till Saturday ***

Weapons at the ready in Cluedo 2: from left, Ellie Leach’s Annabel Scarlett (with the candlestick); Edward Howells’ Professor Plum (spanner); Gabriel Paul’s Reverend Hal Green (lead piping); Hanah Boyce’s Lady Celestine Peacock (rope); Dawn Buckland’s Mrs White (dagger) and Jason Durr’s Colonel Eugene Mustard (gun). Picture: Dave Hogan 

CLUEDO 2 is far outselling last week’s remarkable York Theatre Royal touring show, Blue Beard, despite a raft of five-star reviews for Emma Rice’s feminist wonder tale for those regular York visitors Wise Children.

So much so, you might have to kill for a ticket for Cluedo 2, whether with a candlestick, lead piping, revolver, dagger, rope or spanner, in the box office.

Cluedo 2 is the sequel to, surprise, surprise, Cluedo, the stage revamp of Jonathan Lynn’s 1985 film Clue, based once more on the ever-popular Hasbro board game, whose familiar board design forms the backdrop to David Farley’s witty set to mark the game’s 75th anniversary.

Cut-outs of the board design’s borders form a picture framework within the Theatre Royal’s proscenium arch structure, while a doll’s house of Graveny House is a regular reminder of the new play’s setting. As ever, the whodunit will play out in the kitchen, conservatory, dining room, ballroom, study, hall, lounge, library and billiard room.

Red alert: Ellie Leach’s Miss Scarlett, Bloody Mary cocktail et al, in Cluedo 2. Picture: Dave Hogan

This new “game for a laugh” whodunit takes the form of a broad comedy, one that brings together veteran Birds Of A Feather and Goodnight Sweetheart screen and stage-writing joke factory Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, teamed with Mark Bell, the director of Mischief Theatre’s catastrophe-defying physical theatre capers The Play That Goes Wrong and The Comedy About A Bank Robbery.

Then add the social media intrigue of seeing 2023 Strictly Come Dancing champion Ellie Leach in her “stage theatre debut” after 13 years as Faye Windass in Coronation Street, replacing the originally announced fellow former Corrie star Helen Flanagan.

Her white boots and mini-dress affirm the Swinging Sixties’ setting for a Cluedo tale of murder, mystery and secret passageways with a “new house, new bodies, new suspects”. Or, more precisely, all the usual suspects, gathered one dark and stormy evening in 1968.

Faded rock’n’roll legend Rick Black (Liam Horrigan) will do anything to regain his fame and fortune, especially now he has newly acquired a country manor house, not too far from London. 

What did the butler see? Hannah Boyce’s Lady Celestine Peacock, left, Jack Bennett’s Wadsworth, Edward Howells’ Professor Plum, Ellie Leach’s Annabel Scarlett and Jason Durr’s Colonel Eugene Mustard in Cluedo 2. Picture: Alastair Muir 

A long-awaited new album is his last hope, and so he has assembled the familiar names to pass judgement: his supermodel wife, the Honourable Celestine Peacock (Hannah Boyce); his nod-to-Colonel Parker American South manager, Colonel Eugene Mustard (Jason Durr, from Heartbeat and Casualty); long-time roadie “Professor” Alex Plum (Edward Howells) and blossoming northern interior designer Annabel Scarlett (Leach).

Blunt-speaking housekeeper Mrs White (Audrey Anderson, understudying ably for Dawn Buckland) comes with the house and knows all its secrets. Enter the butler, or rather a very, very thespian actor, Wadsworth (Jack Bennett), who has arrived a day early for filming for his role as a butler in a film that will star Rick Black, setting in motion a running gag about being/not being the butler.

Making a late entry is Black’s former song-writing partner “The Reverend” Hal Green (Gabriel Paul, from The Play That Goes Wrong and Northern Broadsides’ Quality Street)), not to be mistaken for soul singer the Reverend Al Green, but you know that gag will be played more than once.  Green had disappeared mysteriously just as Black’s career went pear-shaped.

 In further roles for Horrigan, film director Mr Grey and an easily distracted detective, plus Tiwai Muza’s PC Silver, will play their part two in a play that is done and dusted in two hours with an interval.

The comedy has two opposing forces: Marks and Gran’s humour is more laboured, slower to click, clunkier, than the fast pace that Bell favours from his Mischief exploits. The gap between the two styles is too big in Act One, but gradually they elide in the far superior Act Two, where the physical comedy, knowing nods to Cluedo’s conventions and even a pantomimic set-piece involving Mrs White’s assorted pastries reap rewards.

Murder most foul: Who could have killed rock star Rick Black (Liam Horrigan, second from right)? Ellie Leach’s Annabel Scarlett, left, Edward Howells’s Professor Plum, Dawn Buckland’s Mrs White, Hannah Boyce’s Lady Celestine Peacock and Jason Durr’s Colonel Eugene Mustard are all in the frame. Picture: Dave Hogan

Durr’s Colonel is mustard throughout; Leach grows into her on-trend Sixties’ role with its sudden twist, vibes of The Persuaders! and a couple of Strictly dance steps, matched by Lady Peacock’s shock revelation. All the while, Paul revels in Reverend Green’s American bafflement at English ways.

Nevertheless, the verbal humour remains a touch heavy handed and obvious, by way of contrast with the swift-moving set changes engineered by the cast on a set cleverly devoid of walls, but with a labyrinth of improvised manor-house corridors and secret passageways instead.

Bell’s direction is rooted in telling the story as much in pictures as words, and his mission is aided considerably by the show’s prize asset: the stylish movement direction of Anna Healey, which puts the ‘swing’ into the Swinging Sixties and makes amusing play of picture frames.

Not a patch on Blue Beard, but Cluedo 2 does improve as the bodies pile up. 

JAS Theatricals in Cluedo 2, York Theatre Royal, today, 2pm, 7.30pm; tomorrow, 7.30pm; Saturday, 2.30pm, 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or