jeeves trio 

Jeeves & Wooster – Perfect Nonsense

Birmingham Rep

****

IT might not be 50 shades but there are certainly a couple of shades of The 39 Steps in this theatrical sortie into the outlandish, eccentric world of Pelham Grenville Wodehouse.

As in the four man adaptation of Buchan's spy novel, there is a large cast of colourful characters and, in this case, three actors to fill them with Robert Webb as Bertie Wooster, Jason Thorpe as Jeeves and Christopher Ryan as Bertie’s aunt’s butler Seppings.

Jeeves and Seppings do the hard miles as the entire cast revolving around Wooster who has the relatively easy task of merely being narrator, raconteur and leading light, although his light does flicker a little as events seem to take on a life of their own whenever he appears, and he appears pretty well all the time with hardly a moment off stage for the superb Webb..

Jeeves and Seppings take on the roles of themselves in between being antique shop owner, any other butlers required, the remarkably tall, thug Roderick Spode; Gussie Fink-Nottle, Bertie’s lifelong friend and newt fancier; Madeline Bassett, Gussie’s on off fiancée; Sir Watkin Bassett, her father; Dahlia Travers, Bertie’s aunt; and the long arm of the law, or in Sepping’s case, the relatively short arm of the law in the shape of Constable Oates!

Seppings also takes it upon himself to be in charge of sound effects and special effects, but not perhaps in the way we normally understand the word special. His gale and thunderstorm and level crossing are particular highlights . . . excuse the feedback.

Based on Wodehouse’s novel, The Code of the Woosters, from 1938 adapted by  the Goodale brothers, Robert and David, we open with Bertie wanting to tell us about his latest escapade, which is all a bit confusing, so he has decided to do it as a sort of play. After all he has been to the theatre a couple of times and seen the actor chaps, and how hard can it be?

And off we go with Jeeves playing himself, and anyone else not being played by Seppings in some convoluted tale about Gussie’s engagement to Madeline and the disapproval of her father Sir Watkin, a relationship even more strained by the fact they are all played by Jeeves and hardly helped by the beer bottle bottom glasses worn by Gussie making him almost blind.

Seppings, as the shortest member of the trio by a considerable margin, naturally has to play Spode, the tallest character, as well as aunt, policeman and antique shop owner.

They are working around some remarkably imaginative scenery in Alice Power’s lovely period design and she also affords us with possibly the world’s first pedal powered revolve.

The lightning quick change of roles provides ready made laughs but also requires some rapid costume changes  which must keep dresser Roberta McKeown on her toe.

Director Sean Foley’s breakneck pace would be lost by any delays or hitches and it might have looked frantic and breathless, but behind the scenes was very slick and smooth.

There are some clever comic touches, such as Bertie and his duck in the bath, or the hit man on wheels, the wind up pictures and even the scenery that moves when you lean on it – ah memories of Crossroads.

And then there is the lovely language and style of Wodehouse with his wonderful turn of phrase, my favourite being one taken from another novel - “She looked like something that might have occurred to Ibsen in one of his less frivolous moments.” To anyone who has seen Ibsen the image is immediate.

Perhaps you can see the Edinburgh Fringe origins of the play in its madcap style and humour  but that brings a freshness to the production which makes it a comic delight from beginning to end. The trio of actors display impeccable timing, some lovely touches and produce a night of smiles and laughs – see, it wasn’t hard at all Jeeves! In fact it was perfect nonsense. To 14-03-15.

Roger Clarke

09-03-15

Tour dates: Marlowe Theatre Canterbury, 17 Mar - 21 Mar; Belfast Grand Opera House, 24 Mar - 28 Mar; Malvern Theatre, 30 Mar - 04 Apr; Milton Keynes Theatre, 7 Apr - 11 Apr; Nottingham Theatre Royal, 20 Apr - 25 Apr; Edinburgh Kings Theatre, 11 May - 16 May; Leeds Grand, 01 Jun - 07 Jun;

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