Undercover best game of Clue ever

The detective story is one of the most durable of genres. The first one was Edgar Allen Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue in 1841. Since then Sherlock survives, Agatha Christie has become a cottage industry and the world-weary Sam Spade continues to stalk the modern shamus.

The latest to (metaphorically) don Bogart’s old snap-brim fedora is Rebecca Northan. Theatre-goers may remember the Toronto performer as Mimi, the insouciant Gallic waif – a clown, complete with red nose. In the popular and successful Blind Date shows, Mimi had been stood-up by her prospective date and boldly went out into the audience to select a companion for the evening. In an awesome display of high wire improv, Northan would convulse audiences by making up a love story in front of their eyes. It was a tour de force for one of Canada’s premier improv performers.

Northan and her company of ace improvisers have returned to the Citadel Theatre with Undercover (A Spontaneous Theatre Creation) until April 29. This time she’s a grizzled gum-chewing cop who guides a green private detective – a volunteer, carefully selected by the company in the lobby before the play opens – through a police procedural. In this she is aided by her fellow improvisers, including Edmonton’s own world-class ad-lib artist Mark Meer, and Northan’s co-star Bruce Horak, as well as Terra Hazelton and Edmonton’s Damien Atkins.

Northan skips right across the literary legacy of the hard-nosed P.I. to set her entertainment in that most familiar of Agatha Christie environments – the drawing room in a Victorian mansion on a narrow road “way out in Sturgeon County,” where cops and crooks meet to solve a murder (… most foul).

The company works to make sure the new cop on the block is cared for by the cast so he is not embarrassed by the experience. The troupe may suggest motives and possible solutions. The explanation of why some characters play several roles: “We needed 12 actors but we could only afford six.”

On opening night this week, they lucked out – the volunteer turned out to be a natural comic named Farrell. He proved to be a master of one-liners – often coming up with loopy comments that sent the practiced farceurs scrambling off in all directions. At one point, grilling a suspect, he spits out, “Are you in cahoots?!” – which broke up the cast and set off a priceless three-minute barrage of ad-lib cahoots jokes.

There may be something of a script in there, but the improvisation and spontaneity are so smooth that outlines of any written script are obliterated. You do get lots of classic exposition like, “My suspicion is that the murderer is probably in this room,” or, “This house has many eyes and ears.”

The usual suspects turn up. There’s Graeme, the local politician (Meer), who, when caught with a gun, deadpans, “It’s all right. I’m Progressive Conservative.” Other suspects include the tough broad entrepreneur (Christy Bruce), and Peter (Horak), the blind tennis player.

The whole evening is non-stop hilarious and the guest dick is much more than a prop – he even came up with the key clue to whodunnit. It’s Colonel Mustard in the parlour with … oops, wrong game.

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