There is a reason it’s called Jeeves & Wooster, not Wooster & Jeeves. The perfect gentleman’s gentleman deserves top billing. He is brilliant, quick-thinking, resourceful and reliable. P.G. Wodehouse’s famous literary toff has his butler to thank for making his life go smoothly, but in this show even Jeeves needs an assistant to really make it work.
In Perfect Nonsense, Bertie Wooster takes to the stage for the first time, having decided that this acting lark could be rather fun. Breaking through the fourth wall almost immediately, he begins to relate a story to the audience but has no real plan of how he will portray the events and the characters. Enter Jeeves, stage right – the unflappable butler who has the knack of ensuring everything works out. Becoming stage manager, props master and supporting actor; managing some truly farcical on-stage doubling, which sees him play two contrasting parts simultaneously, Joseph Chance’s Jeeves truly is the ideal valet.
The plot does seem like a whole lot of nonsense, but that’s the fun of it, having been faithfully adapted by Robert and David Goodale from Wodehouse’s third novel, The Code of the Woosters. Bertie’s Aunt Dahlia tasks her nephew with the important acquisition of a cow creamer, a silver cow-shaped cream jug, but when he meets the father of his best friend’s girlfriend, Sir Watkyn Bassett, in the antique shop, things go a little awry.
With Bertie relating his story to the audience, much of Wodehouse’s original, beautifully figurative, language remains intact. While he plays himself in the retelling, the two supporting cast members, in the shape of Jeeves and Aunt Dahlia’s ageing butler Seppings, manage to play all the many other parts between them. Jeeves introduces Seppings as a man who is good at impressions, and so he is. Robert Goodale, who co-wrote the play with his brother David, delivers an outstanding performance as the geriatric manservant. Goodale plays Seppings acting as Aunt Dahlia, fascist Roderick Spode and more, and it is sometimes hard to keep up. He seems to have boundless energy and his portrayal of the nine-foot tall Spode is downright hilarious. While Jeeves works tirelessly to get Bertie out of trouble, his assistance from Seppings is key to the success of the show.
Sean Foley’s original direction is ingenious. With slick scene transitions, and even slicker costume changes that are enough to wow even the most experienced theatregoer, the cast keeps the audience on its toes, particularly in the second half of the play. While the pace of the first half struggles a little and Bertie, played by Matthew Carter, takes a bit of time to warm up to, he does personify a newt-impersonating lunatic tremendously well.
Much has to be said of the ever-changing scenery with subtle, but effective, changes drawing delighted oohs and ahhs from the audience. Not to mention a wonderful representation of Bertie’s car waiting at a level crossing that is a moment of pure delight. But this is not a perfect production, nor is it meant to be. With backdrops failing to drop and the curtain falling when it shouldn’t, there is more than a slight nod to Noises Off here.
Without his trusty butler, there’s no doubt Bertie Wooster would be a total disaster, and his first foray into the theatre business no exception, but it is not just Jeeves who pulls it off in this production. Chance and Goodale together make a delightful pairing, and while this play is not perfect, it does make for a spiffingly marvellous night out.
I saw Jeeves & Wooster at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton on 5th October 2015
Originally written for http://www.thereviewshub.com and reproduced here with their permission