BWW Reviews: JEEVES & WOOSTER IN PERFECT NONSENSE, Duke of York's Theatre, July 15 2014
In Perfect Nonsense, Bertie Wooster wakes up - in his armchair - to find himself the centre of a theatrical farce. The decision to put on a play has been his, he tells the audience, patting himself on the back about how well everything seems to be going: "I'm finding this acting business rather easy."
It's with his characteristic discretion that Jeeves reminds Wooster to fill the audience in on the backstory: part of the plot of Right Ho, Jeeves, for those who know the books, concerning Wooster's good friend Gussie Fink-Nottle's engagement to 'that ghastly girl' Madeleine. As the tangle of fibs and crossed purposes becomes increasingly knotted, we are grateful for the help - and for the play within a play conceit that means Wooster is able to run through an itemised list of possible plot outcomes. It's a luxury you don't often get in farces.
True to the books, as Bertie Wooster gallavants between town and country, getting into scrapes, the servants - Jeeves and Aunt Dahlia's able butler Seppings (played by Robert Goodale, one of the Goodale Brothers writing duo behind the adaptation) are left to do all the work. The difference here is that the work involved is not (only) toasting crumpets and providing cover stories, but staging P G Wodehouse's complex narrative as a three-hander.
This is something the new cast manage faultlessly. John Gordon Sinclair (Jeeves) and James Lance (Wooster) join Robert Goodale, who has replaced Mark Hadfield as Seppings. Lance charms as Wooster. As the drama builds the costume changes get faster, and Sinclair and Goodale leap between men's and women's parts till the farce reaches fever pitch and Sinclair must have a conversation with himself, playing both the stuffy Sir Watkyn Bassett and his niece Stiffy Byng, dressed one half in tweed and the other half in purple satin.
Jeeves and Seppings mop the sweat from their brows between rapid quick-changes and feats of stage management. It's a running joke that Wooster is constantly impressed by Jeeves' scene changes: he turns a handle and the oil painting above the mantlepiece changes to signify a change of drawing room; he pedals an exercise bike and the stage revolves. Meanwhile, Wooster struggles to find the door between revolving scene changes: "I'm sorry, I can't work this scenery out at all," he says, squeezing himself through a window, "where did the door go?"
This adaptation keeps all the humour of the original books, and creates much of its own, partly through deft slapstick and partly by sending up the characters, something the framing device allows for. Perfect Nonsense is as much about watching the japes Jeeves and Wooster get up to in putting on a play as it is about the actual plot - new material which fans will enjoy. The Goodale Brothers' skill at combining a batty array of characters from across the novels, and at tugging the twists and turns of plot into the shape of a play, is impressive. If there is at times a tendency to milk the humour potential of cross-dressing, the energy and wit of the performances more than make up for it.