It’s always a treat to see a production at Brighton just days from its West End premiere and the hilarious silliness of a new stage outing for the literary favourites Jeeves and Wooster promises great things for its London run from next week.
Oddly, P.G. Wodehouse’s near-iconic creations have made it onto the stage all too rarely, so this new piece – written by Robert and David Goodale and based on the 1938 novel The Code of the Woosters, often regarded as one of the finest stories of the canon – is more than welcome.
As any Wodehouse aficionado will know, the world of Jeeves and Bertie Wooster is generally bonkers and populated with characters who, were they not doing daft things and finding themselves in the most ridiculous of scrapes, might well be locked up in a perpetual drawing room filled with classic literature and curios.
So it is entirely appropriate that Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense is so wild and wacky. It is often less Jeeves and Wooster, and more a blend of the very best of Eddie Braben, Barry Cryer, John Junkin, and Morecambe and Wise, but what, ho! – only an audience member of the sourest disposition could fail to be moved to mirthful merriment.
The tale of the antique silver cow creamer, a manic would-be dictator, a leather notebook, romantic entanglements and helping out old pals in the rural setting of Totleigh Towers is performed by Wooster, Jeeves and fellow butler Seppings very much in the style of the long-running theatre hit The 39 Steps, with fast costume changes, cleverly improvised scenery (most constructed, naturally, by the ingenious and dependable Jeeves), and a breathless pace.
In the hands of the brilliant director Sean Foley we are already on quality ground, with a briskness to the piece bordering on the anarchic yet always controlling the frothy pandemonium, but added to this is a cast to die for: Stephen Mangan superbly perfect as the hapless and likeable Bertie, and Matthew Macfadyen (Jeeves) and Mark Hadfield (Seppings) delightfully playing all the other roles with practised ease.
Matthew Macfadyen is a cool as cucumber Jeeves, but excels when having to be creatively omniscient and tackle characters as diverse as newt-fancying Gussie Fink-Nottle, the fierce Sir Watkyn Bassett, and his daughter Madeline and niece ‘Stiffy’ Byng (the scene in which he has to play two of the characters at once brings back happy memories of some of Tommy Cooper’s most popular sketches).
Likewise, Mark Hadfield is excellent as he makes his way through roles including dotty Aunt Dahlia, the oafish policeman, the antique shop owner, and most impressively, the towering amateur dictator and Black Shorts leader Sir Roderick Spode.
Alice Power’s set and costume design are works of art in themselves, adding to the overall sense of humour and wit – the methods of making Spode larger than life, the handle turning to change oil paintings, and the changing of set by bicycle power are theatrical gems.
It’s hard to say how Wodehouse purists will react to this imaginative offering, but the bottom line is it’s tremendous fun, completely ridiculous, and heartily entertaining.