BWW Review: JEEVES AND WOOSTER IN PERFECT NONSENSE Brings Favourite Literary Characters To The Stage

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Tuesday 30th August 2016

Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense, presented by Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, is a stage adaptation by Robert and David Goodale of the third full length novel written of their adventures, or misadventures, by P. G. Wodehouse. The first is Thank You, Jeeves, followed by Right Ho, Jeeves, and the third is The Code of the Woosters, that code being, "never let a pal down". Bertie Wooster is the archetypal English upper class twit, a silly ass, who continually gets into all sorts of scrapes, relying on his highly intelligent valet, Reginald Arthur Jeeves, to extricate him. As it happens, it is often Jeeves that puts the "young master" into the awkward situations in the first place.

It is a century since Wodehouse began writing about Jeeves and Wooster, finishing six decades later, shortly before his death, and garnering several generations of followers along the way. The books have been turned into very popular television series twice, the first time with Ian Carmichael and Dennis Price, the second with Stephan Fry and Hugh Laurie, and on radio with Michael Hordern and Richard Briers. Wodehouse enjoyed poking fun at the idle rich and, no doubt, this has a great deal to do with the appeal to those less exalted.

This tale involves the on again, off again engagement between the newt fancier, Gussie Fink-Nottle, and the giggling overly-romantic, Madeline Bassett; Bertie's Aunt Dahlia Travers and Sir Watkyn Bassett, and a stolen cow creamer, a silver cream jug in the shape of a cow; the looming presence of the extremely tall Roderick Spode, a fascist leader of The Black Shorts (they had sold out of black shirts), with a secret and who, later in the books, becomes Lord Sidcup; Stephanie 'Stiffy' Byng, who has her own agenda requiring Bertie's help; all happening under the suspicious eye of Constable Oates, and all handled with the assistance of Seppings, the butler at Totleigh Towers.

Purists might not, perhaps, be impressed with the approach taken, because all of the roles are played by just three men. The comedy, therefore, is not exclusively that of Wodehouse and so, as I focussed on that gentle humour and marvellous language, with a passing laugh at the shenanigans, my guest laughed far more at the imposed antics that turned it into a farce, while secondarily laughing at the plot. Either way, there are plenty of laughs to be had, although the small audience took a little while to really get warmed up. The production had a successful run in London, winning an Olivier Award, but there would be far more Wodehouse fans in England, than in Adelaide, guaranteeing Big audiences.

In the books, the tales are told by Bertie Wooster, and so it is here. Seated in an armchair beside a standard lamp, he begins to introduce the story, calling on Jeeves to assist. To his surprise, Jeeves begins to wheel in bits of scenery, slowly building up to a full box set, as he helps Bertie to remember details and corrects any errors. The Totleigh Towers butler, Sepping, joins in, and he and Jeeves change costumes to fill in as all of the other characters.

Bertie Wooster is played by Matthew Carter who is 'gung ho' and bounces energetically all over the stage as Bertie relates the events. As Bertie, the narrator, as well as Bertie in the recreation, he plays just the one character, never leaving the stage, and even changing costumes behind a folding screen, brought on stage for the purpose whenever needed. His enthusiasm helps to cover some of the slower spots while set changes are made behind him.

Joseph Chance plays Jeeves, with an air of superiority and of being totally in control of stage managing the re-enactment of the tale, and Seppings is played by Robert Goodale as an elderly family retainer, bent a little with age, and brooking no nonsense. Between them, they portray all of the other characters, male and female, much to the delight of the audience as they change costumes and wigs and slip quickly from one characterisation to another. Complications arise, such as when Chance has to play Sir Watkyn and 'Stiffy' in conversation with one another, solved by resorting to a special costuming, and Spode's great height, which continually increases, is dealt with in various ways by Goodale, who also plays Aunt Dahlia, all of which adds to the visual humour, as does the set itself, but I won't spoil that by going into details.

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From This Author Barry Lenny

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