Those most famous of P.G. Wodehouse’s characters, Jeeves and Wooster can still entertain audiences today, as can be seen in the current tour of the 2013 production of Jeeves and Wooster: In Perfect Nonsense. The original production, which opened in Richmond before transferring to The West End, picking up an Olivier Award along the way, is revived here for a tour under the direction of John Terry in a co-production from Chipping Norton Theatre and Barn Theatre Cirencester.
Written by David and Robert Goodale, In Perfect Nonsense sees the affable Bertie Wooster come to the conclusion that the happenings of his life would make a perfect stage play, and he should mount a one man production straight away, after all “how hard can acting be?”. Of course, it turns out to be rather more difficult than he assumed, and it falls to his faithful butler, Jeeves and another butler, Seppings to step in and save the production (which is what we are watching) from being a complete disaster.
As with any Jeeves and Wooster tale, the story within our story revolves around Wooster getting in to all manner of scrapes, this time centring on an antique silver cow creamer, and being rescued by Jeeves. It is, in the right tradition, fanciful farce which is dialled up several notches when Wooster attempts to perform it on the stage.
At first glance it all looks pretty amateurish, as it should given Wooster’s blasé attitude to the whole thing. But as the story proceeds the set (supposedly designed by Jeeves, but in reality Alex Marker) changes and contorts with all sorts of clever devices which keep the audience delighted, always wondering what that fireplace or bathtub could turn in to next.
Wooster’s vision of a one-man show is soon dashed, and Jeeves and Seppings must pick up all of the other roles. Andrew Ashford and Andrew Cullum manage to maintain the stony faced looks of indifference when butlering, but transform when picking up the colourful characters that inhabit Wooster’s world. When Cullum (Seppings) first appears as Aunt Dahlia there are shrieks of delight from the audience, and at one point Ashford (Jeeves) succeeds in playing both Sir Watkyn Bassett and Stiffy Byng at the same time.
Matthew Cavendish is delightful as the affable but bumbling Bertie Wooster, playing the role with just the right amount of energy and bonhomie. The cast of three also provide all of the Foley sound effects live, a whole host of contraptions sit either side of the stage, allowing the cast to create the sound of opening and closing doors (a recurring joke) along with every other thud, clunk and tinkle required, which only adds to the hilarity as the cast dash around the stage.
Jeeves and Wooster: In Perfect Nonsense does take a little while to get going, much time is spent explaining the concept to the audience, and the already complex story is complicated further by the meta theatricals. However, it becomes easiest to just let it all wash over you and enjoy this inoffensive and delightfully fun production for what it is; a bit of nonsense that is perfectly executed.