Thursday 16 January 2014

London Theatre Review: Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense

This guest post is by Julia Hilton, freshly returned from the British capital...

Enter the world of PG Wodehouse, via the ramblings of Bertie Wooster, in this perfect farce.

Perfect Nonsense is mostly drawn from Wodehouse's 1938 novel The Code of the Woosters, but includes bits and pieces from many other short stories and novels.

It's a three-handed show with Mathew Macfadyen as Jeeves, Stephen Mangan as Bertie Wooster and Mark Hadfield as Seppings, the elderly butler of Bertie's Aunt Dahlia.

Addressing the audience directly, as he does in the first-person novels, Bertie tries to narrate the story of how he once had to steal a silver cow creamer.

In addition to this ordeal, he and Jeeves are required to patch up the engagement of the appallingly soupy Madeline Bassett and Gussie Fink-Nottle, and help "Stiffy" Byng to gain the permission of her uncle (the villain of the piece) to marry the Reverend "Stinker" Pinker.

All this while avoiding being beaten up by the awful Roderick Spode, the would-be dictator who's a wonderful parody of the humourless fascist strongmen of interwar Europe.

He's assisted in his storytelling task by Jeeves and Seppings. In addition to taking the parts of all the other characters, they also build sets ("It's called scenery, sir"), strike props and generally look after Bertie.

Macfadyen is splendid switching from Jeeves to such unlikely roles as Madeline Bassett in the blink of an eye. He has the gravitas seen in his TV roles (in such programs as Spooks and Ripper Street), and yet is also a consummate comedian and cross-dresser.

Mark Hadfield, a new actor to me, has the difficult job of portraying a butler, Aunt Dahlia and Spode.

He does this to perfection, often letting the audience view the changeovers from one to another while maintaining a farcical deadpan.

As Bertie, Stephen Mangan is perfection; a totally inept, well-meaning fool, all arms and legs and "I say!"

He narrates this tale of misadventure so well, that we're totally on his side and yet as exasperated with him as is Jeeves.

The use of a cartoonish cardboard car for the drive to Totleigh Towers, along with a slow-motion scene in which Bertie tries to steal the cow creamer, elevates the play beyond pure farce and into the realms of expert modern theatre.

This is Jeeves and Wooster at its best and stands on its own; owing nothing to the famous 1990s TV series starring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, but equalling it in pleasure.

Perfect Nonsense continues its run at Duke of York’s Theatre, 104 St Martin’s Lane, London to September 2014; more details at Julia Hilton recommends the Doc Rat comic strip by Jenner for your daily dose of humour:

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