Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense

May 12, 2015 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩    Top-hole

King’s Theatre: Mon 11 – Sat 16 May 2015

There is as much ridiculous fun and general larking about at the King’s this week as there is at panto time.

This touring production of Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense is showing no sign of becoming stale. On the contrary, it is as fresh as a daisy, as frothy as can be and hugely enjoyable.

Jason Thorpe (Jeeves), Robert Webb (Bertie Wooster) and Christopher Ryan (Seppings). Photo: Hugo Glendinnig

Jason Thorpe (Jeeves), Robert Webb (Bertie Wooster) and Christopher Ryan (Seppings).
Photo: Hugo Glendinnig

Behind that rather unwieldy title is an Olivier Award-winning comedy that finally brought West End success to P.G. Wodehouse’s legendary duo after any number of false starts.

The script, by Robert and David Goodale, is based largely on The Code of The Woosters, but cleverly adds another layer by being supposedly a theatrical re-enactment by Bertie Wooster himself. His redoubtable valet Jeeves and his Aunt Dahlia’s butler Seppings are roped in to assist by playing all the other parts.

This leads to an apparently homespun, ramshackle performance that is, of course, remarkably sophisticated, endlessly inventive and brilliantly thought through by director Sean Foley. It owes something to some of Foley’s earlier work, to productions like The 39 Steps and not a little to The National Theatre of Brent, but is also joyously original, with its own headlong momentum and impeccable, slightly askew internal logic.

Robert Webb, best known for his comedy double act with David Mitchell, is an enjoyably gormless Wooster, poking gentle fun by declaring how easy this acting lark is. It is a winning performance, particularly strong at exaggerated physicality and in building up an easy rapport with the audience.

upper-class twit of the year contender

His success in Peep Show was ascribed in some quarters to being a result of playing an exaggerated version of himself. He is just as natural here, however, and he certainly is not playing the same character. That the upper-class twit of the year contender he is portraying is so sympathetic shows that, far from being a big-name comedian parachuted into the role, he is a performer of exceptional skill.

Jason Thorpe and Robert Webb in Jeeves and Wooster. Photo: Hugo Glendinning

Jason Thorpe and Robert Webb in Jeeves and Wooster. Photo: Hugo Glendinning

The other cast members are also particularly strong at physical comedy. In the original stories, by using Jeeves sparingly, his casual omnipotence is heightened. Here, Jason Thorpe’s Jeeves is much more in evidence. That we are constantly conscious of seeing Thorpe as Jeeves playing the fearful Sir Watkyn Basset or his sickening daughter Madeline, rather than Thorpe the actor playing them, is testament to the quality of his performance.

The highlight is when he plays Sir Watkyn and his niece Stephanie at one and the same time, having an argument with himself, aided by the most ingenious of Alice Power’s costumes. Power also provides the superb sets that the indefatigable Jeeves has supposedly knocked together, with the revolving set particularly memorable.

Christopher Ryan is a revelation as Seppings. Anyone who associates him largely with Mike from The Young Ones would be stunned by his versatility and spot-on timing. Whether struggling with a suitably ludicrous costume as would-be dictator Roderick Spode, conducting a conversation with himself as both Spode and Aunt Dahlia, or providing surely the best performance as a level crossing you could ever hope to see, his every moment is a joy.

It is the spot-on timing and constant sense of fun that makes this all so enjoyable. The story is, despite what Wodehouse’s more fervent admirers would have us believe, too silly for words. The meta-theatrical elements, with the breaking of the fourth wall and pantomime-style series of ‘mistakes’ that are virtually all rehearsed, could prove tiresome, but have a drive and freshness that is impossible to resist.

The use of Bertie as a narrator, meanwhile, means that Wodehouse’s real strength – those flight-of-fancy metaphorical descriptions that threaten to leave reality behind – can be used intact. It is this lack of realism that helps give the production a timeless feel. In the end it is as much about the magic, artifice and joy of theatre as it is about the source; either way, it is terrific fun.

Running time 2 hours 5 mins including interval
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ
Monday 11 – Saturday 16 May 2015
Evenings 7.30 pm, Matinees Wed and Sat at 2.30 pm
Tickets and information from http://www.edtheatres.com/jeeves

 

Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense on tour:
11 – 16 May
Robert Webb
as Bertie Wooster
Edinburgh
Edinburgh Kings Theatre
0131 529 6000 Book online
19 – 23 May
Edward Hancock
as Bertie Wooster
Salisbury
Salisbury Playhouse
01722 320 333 Book online
1 – 7 June
Robert Webb
as Bertie Wooster
Leeds
Leeds Grand
0844 848 2700 Book online
9 – 13 June
Edward Hancock
as Bertie Wooster
Cardiff
Cardiff New Theatre
029 2087 8889 Book online

ENDS

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