Mark Heap (Jeeves) and Robert Webb (Bertie Wooster) in Jeeves and Wooster; photo: Uli Weber

Jeeves & Wooster

9th May 2014

JEEVES & WOOSTER in Perfect Nonsense

Reviewed by David Shadwick

Attempting to make much sense of this delightfully batty, insane, yet incredibly engaging baloney is actually quite tricky. This adaptation by brothers David and Robert Goodale of PG Wodehouse’s The Code of the Woosters – and aptly named Perfect Nonsense – kicks off at such a breakneck speed (which doesn’t let up all evening) that you are left catching your breath after the first five minutes.

It appears that the charmingly scatterbrained Bertie Wooster has been persuaded to present a one man play, on stage in the West End, about his recent escapades at Totleigh Towers, where he was sent by his Aunt Dahlia to steal an antique silver cow creamer. After the first five minutes of being ‘on stage in the spotlight’, Bertie realises that he cannot possibly perform all the roles himself (despite valiant efforts, it must be said) and so summons his trusted valet, Jeeves, and his Aunt Dahlia’s butler, Seppings, to assist in ‘his production’.

What follows is about ninety minutes of manic madcap mayhem, as Jeeves and Seppings frantically move scenery, change props and become all the characters in Wooster’s tale. Cue some of the fastest costumes changes I’ve seen as the saga progresses and spirals more and more out of control. Only Wodehouse could come up with such a delightfully ridiculous yarn, and this trio of hard working actors appear to be having an absolute ball bringing the silly shenanigans to life.

As the evening evolves so does the set, as it becomes more and more elaborate with every addition to the plot. When you find yourself laughing out loud at the scene changes it just highlights there’s not a missed moment of fun in director Sean Foley’s slick show.

I particularly loved Jeeves and Wooster’s ‘car journey’ to Totleigh Towers, complete with cut-out car, as they encountered every possible weather condition (enthusiastically supplied by Seppings and his table of countless props and effects).

This production – already the worthy winner of the Olivier Award for Best Comedy with the original cast – relies heavily on the chemistry and bond between the actors. The new team have a hard act to follow but Heap and Webb step into their predecessors’ roles beautifully, bouncing off one another with aplomb.

Mark Heap is deliciously deadpan as Wooster’s devoted valet Jeeves, but it’s his versatility in playing a host of other OTT Wodehouse characters that really impresses. His short sighted Gussie Fink-Nottle had me in stitches, as did his elegantly poised Stephanie ‘Stiffy’ Byng. The pièce de résistance comes when he is also required to play Sir Watkyn Bassett at the same time. Priceless.

Mark Hadfield as Seppings (the only actor remaining from the original cast) also has plenty of opportunities to showcase his adaptability and comedic talent. His Aunt Dahlia is totally dotty, and his role as seven feet tall would-be dictator, Roderick Spode, causes much hilarity as Hadfield finds any method and means he can to reach Spode’s considerable height.

As Bertie Wooster, Robert Webb is a sheer delight, capturing the foolishness of Wodehouse’s loveable fop to perfection. His beaming smile and natural rapport with the audience, as he earnestly tells of his capers, is captivating. You just can’t help but warm to his every exhausting predicament, as he relentlessly tries to soothe the troubled waters of a lovers' tiff between Madeline Bassett and Gussie Fink-Nottle. Stealing the cow creamer from under the threatening nose of Sir Watkyn Bassett, as it turns out, is the least of Bertie's worries. Not only has he to try and restore true love to both Madeline and Gussie, but also to Reverend 'Stinker' Pinker and ‘Stiffy’ Byng – and then try to defeat the crazy aspirations of aspiring autocrat Roderick Spode, among a host of other potential catastrophes… and all before slipping into his silk ‘jim jams’ just in time for bed.

This is an unadulterated and absurd romp from start to finish, and all topped off with a cheeky Charleston.

Spiffing fun.

Duke of York’s Theatre, St Martin’s Lane, London WC2N 4BG

0844 871 3051 • www.jeevesandwoosterplay.com

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