Alan Ayckbourn and Andrew Lloyd Webber, based on the stories by P G Wodehouse
Landor Theatre, Clapham
By Jeeves is a musical set in the vaudeville of the roaring twenties, with our hero, Bertie Wooster endeavouring to entertain his audience whilst a replacement is sought for a stolen banjo. It is a very silly farce, set to music, with tap. It is all very English. The audience seemed to be entirely comprised of Americans, which would no doubt have pleased Wodehouse, who made the USA his home for so much of his life.
All of the most beloved characters put in an appearance over the two hours of deftly woven stitching of a series of the best plot devices across the Jeeves and Wooster novels and there is a sure Ayckbourn hand recognisable in the theatrical asides, improbable props and visual gags.
The show is delightful, disarming, innocent and refreshing. The musical also manages to capture the spirit of the books and characters, the implausible situations, the hapless friends, the bossy and dreamy girls and the playful language and slang so intrinsically associated with Bertie Wooster and his gentleman's gentleman.
There are a number of ingenious uses of set and design, suggested by Ayckbourn and realised confidently and precisely by Director Nick Bagnall and choreographer Andrew Wright. The sheer ingenuity of many staging trickeries, from wicker basket cars to vertical but horizontal ladders, is a joy to watch and the audience is let in on the joke all the way through. This method of involving the viewer in the plot holes and shortcomings of the intimate but well provided pub theatre puts everyone at their ease and welcomes the audience to a world of suspended disbelief.
In such a musical as this, where there is no discernible message about global warming or the futile nature of cyclical political history, where there is no substantial war or love story to focus on, merely a journey of likeable characters getting themselves in and out of trouble, a lot depends on the charm of the lead characters to stop the audience from zoning out.
There is no question of getting lost or drowsing off in this super-high energy offering and Kevin Trainor as Wooster makes the physical and verbal acrobatics of his part look effortless; his boyish, carefree, slightly cowardly and ultimately kindly role is instantly winsome and easy for the audience to warm to.
He is ably supported by an outstanding supporting cast, it would be unfair to single out any, as they were universally unselfconscious, engaging and displayed superb comic timing; the sort that isn't noticeable until after you stop laughing at the joke and realise the funniest aspect was the simple delivery. All of the cast make their performance memorable and recognizable, by their studied, consummate and heartfelt deliveries.
The titular part of Jeeves is played down perfectly by Paul M Meston, a quietly arrogant man servant, reminiscent of a male Mary Poppins, indulgent of his charge, ever knowing and ever in control. He also has a pleasing nod to Gilbert and Sullivan in the song 'What have you got to say, Jeeves?' His singing (and his dancing for that matter) is first rate.
The songs are pleasingly few and fleeting, appropriate to the action, not invasive but short enough to remain captivating and allow for innovative and hilarious choreography: the tap number for the trees and bushes through Wooster's drive through the country was inspired. David Rose and his band are exceptional, the live music was a particular highlight and their use of 'sound effects' throughout the play add greatly to the ambiance and enjoyment of the night. One small disappointment is that the actors are wearing mics, rather unnecessary one suspects in such a tiny theatre.
By Jeeves is a play for those who are fans of the Daisy Pulls It Off school of theatre, affable English fops throwing themselves around garden mazes and country mansions, an affectionate spoof by masters of their craft. Like Harry Potter movies for Harry Potter fans, it makes more sense to you than those who haven't read the books, but By Jeeves manages to remain incredibly good fun whether you are already a fan or not.
"By Jeeves" opened on the 1st February 2011 and runs for 5 weeks only
Reviewer: Lizzie Singh