Jeeves and Wooster Review
Full to the brim with spirit and energy, Jeeves and Wooster Perfect Nonsense is a hilarious theatrical delight
P.G. Wodehouse’s infamous characters are loved by some and loathed by others, but it is exactly this Marmite quality that makes them so delightfully funny. The books have made it into our national identity to the same extent as A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh or even C.S. Lewis’s Narnia stories, so it’s not surprising that a stage play has arrived.
Back in 1975, the West End saw the notorious musical version of Wodehouse’s creations in Andrew Lloyd Webber and Alan Ayckbourn’s By Jeeves that was more successfully revived in 1996 at the Duke of York’s Theatre. Now, once again, the theatre plays host to the new stage play called Perfect Nonsense.
Cleverly adapted for the stage by the Goodale brothers from the 1937 book The Code of the Woosters, the story revolves around the idea that Bertie Wooster (Stephen Mangan) is presenting a show on the stage of a West End theatre about his recent expedition to Totleigh Towers in which he was tasked to steal an antique silver cow-creamer.
Jeeves and Wooster bring an unbridled innocence and what can only be described as sunshine to the theatre
Bertie enlists the help of his manservant Jeeves (Matthew Macfadyen) to play all the other supporting roles. Jeeves cleverly furnishes the stage with all manner of inventive and makeshift set designs to help tell the bizarre story. This elegant conceit between the cast on stage and the audience creates a gleeful sense of conspiracy that constantly offers up moments for comic brilliance.
At the helm of this production is Sean Foley, who delighted audience with his comic re-imagining of The Ladykillers last year and is also the man behind the much anticipated X Factor musical I Can’t Sing!, due to open at the London Palladium later this year. Foley had made his name as a comic director and he certainly doesn’t disappoint on Jeeves and Wooster, with hilarious running visual gags aplenty, while keeping the action fast and buoyant.
However, all great directors would be nothing without great actors and, luckily enough, Matthew Macfadyen, Stephen Mangan and Mark Hadfield are some of the best there are. The ever-dutiful valet Jeeves is given a gracefully elegant air by Macfadyen, while also being able to step into numerous other supporting roles, including, at one point, two of them at the same time – one male, one female – in a comic coup of extraordinary ability and energy.
Mangan brings a naive dottiness to Bertie Wooster, along with a piano-like smile accompanied by a honkingly ridiculous laugh that is always echoed by the audience’s. The pair work well together and you can tell they are having a ball up on the stage; this only serves to increase the joyful atmosphere in the auditorium, because we seem to ‘all be in it together’.
Hadfield, like Macfadyen, is required to play a plethora of different characters and does so with enviable gusto, but it is the farcically quick switch from the imposing Aunt Dahlia to Roderick Spode, a budding dictator who wears an Adolf Hitler moustache, that proves his credentials as an imaginative comic actor.
The Goodale brothers’ script is genuinely funny and finds a good balance between the visual elements and the more erudite speeches
As Foley’s taut production zips along, we are treated to one cleverly resourceful set design after another, becoming more and more lavish and sending up every theatrical convention going. Of particular note is the bicycle-powered revolving stage, impossible quick entrances and exits and several trick props that take clichés to a new level. Now although Jeeves takes the credit for them in the play, the real mastermind behind these ingenious designs in Alice Power: a name to look out for.
The Goodale brothers’ script is genuinely funny and finds a good balance between the visual elements and the more erudite speeches, although any fanatical admirers of P.G. Wodehouse may feel that the adaptation takes a few too many liberties with the great writer’s handiwork. But what it lacks in faithfulness it makes up for in physical gags and some side-splittingly funny one-liners that had much of the audience doubled over.
Whether you love or hate them, Jeeves and Wooster bring an unbridled innocence and what can only be described as sunshine to the theatre, so anyone looking for a glorious escape from their trouble and woes should head down to the Duke of York’s Theatre. You won’t regret it!