I’ve been a fan of PG Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster for many years and have fond memories of the TV adaptations of the 60s starring Ian Carmichael and Dennis Price and of the 90s with Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. I’m pleased to say that the pairing of Robert Webb and Jason Thorpe has created another fine representation of the loveable upper-class twit Bertie Wooster and his unflappable gentleman’s gentleman Jeeves. The big difference from the TV series is that all the other extravagantly named and eccentric characters in the drama are played by Thorpe and by the hysterically funny Christopher Ryan who you will know best from hit TV shows such as The Young Ones and Ab Fab. In this production he reminded me very much of Norman Wisdom and that is a big compliment.
Perfect Nonsense, adapted by the Goodale Brothers and directed by Sean Foley, opened in London’s West End in September 2013 and won the prestigious Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy. It is now touring the UK with plans in the offing to take it further afield. It is a testament to the wit and humour of Wodehouse that his comic characters have stood the test of time and still have the ability to raise belly laughs from an appreciative audience to this day.
The plot is convoluted and implausible as you would expect but allows lots of opportunities for comic misunderstandings, slapstick and farce. Bertie’s Aunt Dahlia commands him to get back a silver cow creamer which has been acquired by his uncle’s great rival and fellow silver collector, magistrate Sir Watkyn Basset. Sir Watkyn thoroughly disapproves of Bertie who had the misfortune to appear before him years before on a charge of stealing a policeman’s helmet. To complicate matters, Bertie’s best friend Gussie Fink-Nottle is engaged to be married to Sir Watkyn’s daughter Madeline and, should the marriage not go ahead, Bertie is next in line. How can he ensure that horrible prospect doesn’t arise and how can he ensure a successful outcome to a series of seemingly insurmountable problems? The answer of course is Jeeves to the rescue.
The stage sets are ingenious with a revolving stage seemingly powered by a static bicycle and a series of wheeled-on blocks and revolving pictures on the wall representing the different scenes – from Bertie’s bedroom and drawing room to the jeweller’s shop and the library. The props are simple and effective. Bertie and Jeeves drive down to the country in a car which consists of a cardboard frontage and a windscreen propped up on what looks like a metal bedstead. The sound effects and local colour are provided by Seppings (Ryan), even to the extent of an imaginary level crossing and passing train. The difficulties involved in one man playing a range of different characters are made part of the comedy with the diminutive Seppings performing quickfire transformations into a variety of different characters – butlers, a policeman, Aunt Dahlia and the gigantic Roderick Spode. The action is fast paced, visually funny and delightfully silly and, judging by the gales of laughter throughout the night, provided a good night’s entertainment for all.