Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense

Robert and David Goodale from the works of P G Wodehouse
Mark Goucher and Mark Rubinstein in association with Just For Laughs Theatricals and Eleanor Lloyd
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

John Gordon Sinclair as Jeeves and James Lance as Bertie Wooster Credit: Ili Weber
Jeeves and Wooster Credit: Ili Weber

Bertie Wooster has a story to tell, the relating of one particularly eventful day in his life. To this end he decides to take to the empty stage of a theatre and narrate the tale to as many people as possible. Luckily he has the dependable Jeeves on hand to suggest, correct and generally make sure that Bertie doesn’t make too much of a fool of himself.

Multiple characters appear during the day in question, all with the most improbable names, but only three actors are available. Bertie plays only himself as narrator and performer, but the other two play all the characters between them which causes a lot of confusion, especially when they suddenly discover that a fourth or fifth person is scheduled to appear and they are all otherwise engaged.

The resourceful Jeeves somehow manages to keep control (with a lot of help from director Sean Foley) even to the extent of supplying and arranging the various pieces of scenery with a very clever bit of engineering expertise into the bargain involving a bicycle pedaling method of changing it around. He even manages to construct a car on stage (1920s style of course) and all done with calm, unhurried precision.

Performers in this play have to have the agility of a gazelle, the flexibility of a contortionist, the speed of a stripper at costume changes and plenty of stamina to keep going, as well as being able to instantly change their character with each new costume.

Happily these three tick all the boxes, my particular favourite being Jeeves, elegant in exquisite frock and hat, with matching shoes, all accessorised by a rather excitable West Highland terrier. It is amazing that with simply a change of facial expression, the lift of an eyebrow, movement of a hand and a different voice a gruff, pipe-smoking Sir Watkin Bassett can become a simpering enticing young woman—even with only a lampshade and piece of curtain to effect the change.

John Gordon Sinclair and James Lance played the roles of Jeeves and Wooster respectively in the West End and are now beginning their tour at Guildford, with the writer Robert Goodale brilliantly portraying the aging manservant Seppings as well as the aunt who insists on Bertie stealing a silver creamer in the shape of a cow from Sir Watkin Bassett. I'm not quite why this is in order as the plot gets rather involved with Bertie trying to fulfill all expectations, even managing a little matchmaking along the way.

This is English 1920s silliness at its very best, very funny and superbly timed. The ability to go offstage as one character and almost immediately enter from the other side as another is astonishing, and the curtain call becomes a threesome dance performance with all Charlestoning like mad and still in character—whichever one that may be.

The play won the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy and, judging by the Guildford audience’s reaction, it’s going to be even more appreciated on tour. Everyone left the theatre with a smile on their face.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor

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