Theatre Review: Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense

Where: Duke of York Theatre / When: 2nd November 2013

As a longtime fan of PG Wodehouse’s inimitable Jeeves and Wooster, I was very excited to see that there was to be a stage adaptation. My excitement grew when I read that Stephen Mangan was playing Bertie Wooster and Matthew MacFadyen his ‘gentleman’s gentleman’, Jeeves. Surely, with source material so ripe with possibility and such a gifted cast, it was a guaranteed hit?

Well, the answer is a resounding, deafening, YES. ‘Perfect Nonsense‘ is sublimely good. Rather than make it a straight play, the Goodale Brothers, who are adapting the story, turned the premise into a play within a play. Bertie Wooster has decided he makes a decent actor and will use this medium to describe a recent scrape. Bertie will play himself throughout, while Jeeves and Bertie’s Aunt Dahlia’s butler Seppings play all other parts. Jeeves and Seppings also handle all staging and effects. This is a genius move by the Goodale Bros and Sean Foley, who directs. It allows plenty of comedy to be extracted from the amateurish sets (and sometimes from how un-amateurish they are!) and from the constant changing of characters by MacFadyen and Mark Hadfield, who plays Seppings.

Too much plot can’t be revealed for fear of spoiling the effect, but the basic outline involved Bertie travelling to Totleigh Towers, where he has to simultaneously steal a cow creamer, evade a particularly persistant law-man and reinstate the engagement of his pal Gussie Fink-Nottle and Madeline Bassett- among numerous other hiccups. As always with Jeeves and Wooster, the plot and farce build into ever more confusing and complicated webs until Jeeves steps in – using occasionally ludicrous methods to solve Bertie’s problems.

The physical comedy and essential timing displayed by all three actors was utterly perfect. Not one beat was missed and the energy displayed on stage was impressive. Stephen Mangan is a known deft comic touch and his Bertie is sweet, dim and unfailingly upbeat. His reading of the character was delightful and was a perfect conduit for the audience. Matthew MacFadyen, more usually associated with dramatic roles, had another chance to display his range as a comedy actor, following his stint in Private Lives in 2010. He leapt deftly between roles, changing voice and costume with great speed and pulling off the remarkable trick of managing to play Jeeves playing Gussie Fink-Nottle etc. Similarly, Mark Hadfield, hitherto unknown to me, turned in a remarkable performance, infusing all of his characters with a distinct personality of their own.

Sean Foley, the Goodale Brothers and the cast have really produced something special in ‘Perfect Nonsense‘. It was consistently funny, superbly acted and a total delight from beginning to end. The audience I was in gave a standing ovation at a matinee, which, in my experience, usually means you’ve seen something universally loved. Heartily recommended – go and see while you still can!

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