BWW Reviews: JEEVES AND WOOSTER IN PERFECT NONSENSE, Duke of York's Theatre, April 23 2014
It's baffling. The words that PG Wodehouse wrote simply leap off the page - the sparkling wit, the shimmering similes, the warm generosity - but, adapted for stage or screen, it doesn't seem to work. Real life supervenes and the inescapable fact that no actual people talk like that gets in the way.
But, in an inspired conceit, Robert and David Goodale have Bertie Wooster doing on stage exactly what Bertie does in the books - addressing us directly. Soon he's conscripted Jeeves into building a little scenery and taking on a few character roles and gets more support from another gentleman's gentleman, Seppings. Suddenly the artifice makes sense, the structure is familiar and the three takes us into the heart of Wodehouse's world.
After garnering plenty of awards, Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense (continuing at the Duke of York's Theatre) has been recast, with Robert Webb as Bertie and Mark Heap as Jeeves. Mr Webb may be a little old to play PGW's most celebrated creation, but he can still do the overgrown schoolboy shtick and carries off Bertie's relentlessly sunny outlook beautifully. Absolutely critically for this unusual format to work, he instantly makes a connection with the audience, a rapport that sustains the show through its occasional pantoish moments.
Mark Heap makes a fine Jeeves; but an even better Stiffy Byng, Sir Watkyn Bassett and Gussie Fink-Nottle - for I can confirm that the fine theatrical traditions of cross-dressing and quick changing are alive and well in this production. Mr Heap is almost a cabaret turn on his own!
Though these are excellent comic performances, the show is almost stolen by Mark Hadfield's preposterous Sir Roderick Spode, Wodehouse's "tribute" to Sir Oswald Mosley. Seppings may be something of a creaking old retainer when first we meet him, but he's a sensational Spode when roped into Bertie's tale.
Though sometimes a little tricksy for the sake of it, the staging doesn't get in the way of the words and those words are as sublime as ever. It's not easy to please Wodehouse's legions of fans - amongst whom I number - but if Perfect Nonsense doesn't, nothing will. Righto - I'm off for a soak and pleasant ten minutes bouncing a rubber duck about for amusement.