Jeeves with added (Wooster) sauce
Up for some jolly japes, an avalanche of comic effects and a gentle skewering of the upper class? Then you might just love this anarchic reimagining of the P.G Wodehouse classic.
Truth be told, I watched way too much TV in the ’90s (how did we even do that with just four channels?) but incomprehensibly I never once saw Jeeves and Wooster – a laugh out-loud ITV Brit comedy that ran for three years (plus umpteen repeats since). It was a massive hit with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, so fair to say I didn’t really know what to expect from Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense.
As you take your seat at the Chipping Norton Theatre – a gorgeous playhouse with a gallery and frescoed lobby ceilings – the programme says cryptically to ‘take your seats with caution’, which, at just three rows from the front, I don’t think I really nailed. From the moment the curtain goes up with a larger-than-life Bertie Wooster (played by the talented Matt Cavendish) in full-on, jogging-on-the-spot mode as he introduces himself – it’s clear you’re in for a rollercoaster romp.
Here’s the premise. Aristo-buffoon Bertie Wooster has hired the theatre for the night to present his one-man show, retelling a recent and rather spectacular series of misadventures, including the theft of a novelty cow creamer (big in the 30s appaz) and a narrow escape from unwanted matrimony.
The only trouble is that Bertie hasn’t worked out who’s going to play the parts. Enter stage left trusty Jeeves (played by the wonderfully long-suffering Andrew Ashford) and Andrew Cullum as Aunt Dahlia’s valet, Seppings. Over the course of two hours the three actors hurl themselves from role to role, as they race to keep up with Bertie’s monologues recounting his crazy adventures.
The razor-sharp wit comes thick and fast as the cast slam, wham and bang makeshift doors, bells and whistles to make their own DIY sound effects – plus what looks like a Pringles tube at one point (to mimic a phone call).
The action hurtles at breakneck speed as Bertie is unwittingly called upon to play match-maker – reconciling the affections of his host’s drippy daughter Madeline Bassett with his newt-fancying friend Gussie Fink-Nottle, whilst dodging the brilliantly named Stiffy Bing (also played by Jeeves / Ashford).
Cavendish’s newt impression half way through is actually one of the big highlights ‘I think that went tremendously well’ he notes – to howls of laughter from audience.
Still keeping up? In addition to trying to pull off the wedding of the season to avoid having to marry Madeline himself he simultaneously has to avoid amateur dictator Sir Roderick Spode (also played by Seppings) and try to steal a silver cow creamer.
Seppings, of average height, has to go to ever-increasing lengths to portray the towering Roderick Spode. Ending up wheeling around the weirdest comedy 9-foot mannequin body that he mounts every time he has a line.
The storyline is whippet-quick (rummage for a Werthers and you’re blommin’ done for) and not too mention rather loopy – so you do have to concentrate to keep up. But what you get with this fantastic show is pure unadulterated silliness and what it says on the tin – a perfect nonsense.
There is, of course, the sub-text of class and the enduring inequality of society, but Jeeves clearly gets Wooster out of all manner of fixes. ‘I don’t usually get out of the bath in front of 200 people,’ announces Bertie Wooster nervously as he emerges from some foamy water. In a flash Jeeves appears with a freshly pressed towel to much tittering. Just one of the many instances where Jeeves saves Bertie’s bacon.
And were it not for Jeeves, he would truly be in the soup, hitched to ‘ghastly’ Madeleine or Stiffy (*cue tittering*), or in jail for stealing a silver cow creamer.
This riotous comedy is an absolute treat for the senses, you’ll come out feeling quite exhausted, but in the best way possible.
They even top it off at the end with a perky Charleston as they bow out (to a standing ovation at our showing). By my count I would say it got a solid 5 laughs per minute – not bad going for a slice of very old-fashioned fun.
And wouldn’t we all like our own personal Jeeves? Yes, I jolly well would.
Good For: Lovers of classic comedy and high-paced theatre. Older kids and teens will like it too for it’s sheer japery and laugh-out-loud moments. Anyone who wants their theatrical slapstick with a literary high brow.
Not For: Anyone posh named Bertie, you might feel a bit, err, exposed. Very young ‘uns that won’t really get the lines. If you’re looking for a deep ‘n’ meaningful night out. It’s 100% pure romp.
Jeeves and Wooster A Perfect Nonsense is on at the Chipping Norton Theatre until Sat 15 Feb. Co-created with the Barn Theatre in Cirencester (from 21 April – 9 May).
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