London’s West End: Review of Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense
I was introduced to the hilarious world of Jeeves & Wooster in my first year of university, when I reviewed the book Jeeves in the Offing in the student newspaper. The series of 35 short stories and 11 novels are a creation of P.G.Wodehouse’s imagination and are set in the early 20th century, pre-World War I, in an upper class England full of butlers, gentlemen’s clubs and weekends away visiting friends in stately homes. Jeeves always inevitably finds himself embroiled in ‘a spot of bother’ and his loyal servant Jeeves steps in heroically to save the day. Wodehouse’s comic genius and delightful light-hearted tone is perfect for the stage and I’m thrilled it was adapted for into a play by the Goodale Brothers. Perfect Nonsense is largely based on Wodehouse’s third novel, The Code of the Woosters, although the Goodale Brothers have managed to incorporate a myriad of characters from five other brilliant Jeeves stories.
A friend and I went to see the play in the Duke of York’s theatre a few weeks ago and by the interval my cheeks were literally aching from laughing so much. The story surrounds a conflict of interests between the infamous Aunt Dahlia, Wooster’s newt-addicted friend Gussie Fink-Nottle and his betrothed Madeleine Bassett. The gist of the plot is that Gussie’s engagement to Madeleine is at risk, with drastic consequences for Bertie, while Aunt Dahlia is intent on robbing Madeleine’s father of a prized cow-shaped silver cream jug. Eccentric to say the least, and very typical of the sticky spots Wooster is accustomed to finding himself in. One warning I would give you is that to get the full effect and understand each joke, you really need to have read a few of the books (they’re short) or have seen a few episodes of the 1990s TV adaptation, which starred Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. Each Wodehouse story links to others and to understand all of the references in the play then you should do your homework in advance.
I cannot omit a reference to the great set. Upon taking your seats in the theatre you are initially disappointed by the set: three brick walls and a sole armchair. What is this? I thought to myself. Within a few short lines it emerges that Wooster is going to perform a play-within-a-play, after a chap at the Drones Club (his London club) suggested it to him in passing, as a joke. This clever trick on the part of the Goodale Brothers allows us to listen in to a running commentary from Bertie Wooster throughout his re-enactment of the latest dramatic saga in his life. Before Wooster throws himself fuly into the play-within-a-play, Jeeves appears on stage and has (naturally…) put a remarkable effort into preparing for Wooster’s debut West End appearance. The impressive last-minute set that Jeeves has put together caters for a number of scenes, and props such as the ones expertly orchestrated by Seppings during the drive to Totleigh Towers, the home of Sir Watjyn Bassett, are simply hilarious. The fact that Jeeves and Seppings (Aunt Dahlia’s butler) are constantly occupied, portraying dozens of different characters (at one point Jeeves even manages two at once!), while Bertie Wooster struggles to portray just one character (himself) only emphasises the contrast of the ‘master and servant’ relationship.
I have to admit that I had very high expectations of this play, particularly because I have such a defined vision of these two infamous characters in my mind. For this reason, Stephen Mangan and Matthew Macfadyen deserve credit for successfully pulling off two so beloved and well-known characters, especially ones that have previously been portrayed by two geniuses, Stephen Fry & Hugh Laurie, among others. Above all I’m amazed that they manage to so accurately emulate the two protagonists, while undertaking such an “exhausting but exhilirating” work out, with such complex choreography that must leave their brains hurting for hours afterwards each night.
I couldn’t praise this play highly enough and I am so pleased to have caught it before these two actors finish their turn on the stage. Stephen Mangan and Matthew Macfadyen are on the stage until 5th April 2014, after which actors Robert Webb (from Peep Show) and Mark Heap will step into their shoes until 20th September 2014. You must, simply must, see it – you’ll regret it if you don’t.