Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense
19th March 2018
Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense is based on the story "The Code of the Woosters" written by P G Wodehouse in 1938. It takes the form of a play within a play as Bertie stages a dramatic representation of the recent events at Totleigh Towers.
It begins with Bertie introducing his idea of the play, which is to be a One Man Show performed by himself. After all, he says, how hard could it be? It very soon becomes apparent that it is considerably harder than Bertie had imagined and he calls on his Butler Jeeves to assist. Fortunately the ever resourceful Jeeves, knowing the shortcomings of his master has anticipated the problem and made arrangements in the form of scenery, and supporting actors. Or to be precise, supporting butlers. He has recruited fellow butlers Seppings and Wilkins to play themselves, and all the other characters in the play - including the female characters. And so we are set up for a play with wobbly scenery, terrible wigs, and unconvincing acting as the two butlers find themselves having to play several characters, often at the same time. They exit suddenly stage left to return seconds later sporting a wig, or a hat, or a frock. It provides for some ridiculous and hilarious moments, most of which are scripted, though on the first night quite a few were not quite, and there was a lot of opportunity for ad libbing, as props refused to co-operate, costumes malfunctioned and the actors swapped character so quickly they confused even themselves!
This is not classic Wodehouse as you might expect it. The script may well use his erudite words but most of the laughter comes from the physical humour. James Errington as Bertie has the challenging job of keeping the narrative going for the entire play, not so easy when your scenery misbehaves and your fellow cast members are in danger of corpsing. He copes admirably with the trials the performance throws his way. There are quite a few moments that may, or may not, have been scripted, and some that certainly weren't. It's a tribute to Errington's presence of mind that he was able to negotiate his way through all of them and transform them into assets to the performance.
John Seymour plays Jeeves with the most convincing sang-froid of a truly great English butler. Dead pan throughout almost all of the proceedings, he allows himself only the slightest show of disdain, a tad more disgust at one point, and just a touch of butler-ish smugness when required.
The stars of the show however have to be Seppings and Wilkins who swap between characters at a frenetic pace. I think they and the rest of the cast can be forgiven for occasionally forgetting which one they were meant to be playing. Now, pay attention - Lee Wilkins plays (slightly confusingly) Wilkins, Sir Watkin Bassett, Madeline Bassett, Gussie Fink-Nottle and Stiffy Byng. The scene where he has to be both Sir Watkin Bassett and Madeline Bassett at the same time is a classic. Thom Kelly plays Seppings, Proprietor (of the antique store - a rare silver cow creamer is integral to the story, but you will need to see the play to find out how and why; it is simply beyond the scope of this reviewer to even begin to explain the rest of the plot), Butterfield, and Wooster's Aunt Dahlia. He nails each one but his Aunt Dahlia is an absolute triumph.
The lighting and sound crew are spot on - most notably when the scenic malfunction required a discreet blackout! The set and costumes are a mix of simplicity and ingenuity, adding authenticity and humour to the play.
There is a lot going on in this play, and Alex Goodchild has set himself quite a challenge for his directorial debut. Judging from his comments in the programme and the obvious fun that was being had on stage, I suspect directing this lot may have been not dissimilar to herding cats and mostly it has worked. It may not be entirely perfect. There is a certainly a lot of nonsense. But, it is very funny, entertaining nonsense.
Jeeves and Wooster will be perfecting their nonsense until Saturday 24th March. Get along to it.