Wednesday, 17 December 2014

P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense at The Hexagon, Reading, 29th October 2014

There is no doubting the popularity of P G Wodehouse’s characters, appearing on our screens as far back as Dennis Price and Ian Carmichael’s Jeeves and Wooster to the later pairing of Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. However, it appears that last year Perfect Nonsense became the first theatrical outing for Wodehouse’s prevailing couple.

In this touring production, James Lance plays our guide and narrator, Wooster. Gordon Sinclair as Jeeves and, the play’s cowriter, Robert Goodale as Seppings make up the trio. The latter take on several comic roles including Gussie Fink-Nottle, Madeline Bassett, Sir Watkin Bassett, Dahlia Travers, Roderick Spode and Constable Oates. Some achievement and, as you can guess, it often goes deliberately and hilariously wrong.

Adapted, quite loosely from The Code of the Woosters, it is a play within a play. The often-incoherent plot is immaterial; it serves only as a hook upon which to hang a series of witty exchanges and engaging sight gags. Nevertheless, some brief explanation may be in order. Bertie has been encouraged to a one-man show relating an adventure of mayhem and misadventure at Totleigh Towers, the home of the imperious Sir Watkin Bassett. From the outset, it becomes clear to the ‘mentally negligible’ Bertie that he cannot go it alone but needs both Jeeves and fellow butler, Seppings, if he is to succeed in telling his tale.

I was immediately drawn to the Goodale’s characters especially his Roderick Spode, a ‘Big chap with a small moustache and the sort of eye that can open an oyster at sixty paces’. However, I felt Gordon Sinclair, in the latter half, came to dominate as the striking and hugely farcical Watkin Bassett.
I have always found Wodehouse a bit of a strain. My allegiance lies with his contemporary Evelyn Waugh. However, in the context of this production such an affectation is meaningless. The play stands on its own. Wodehouse’s characters stand only as props for skilled playwrights Robert and David Goodale to expand and build upon. In this, they were supremely successful.

Initially it seemed as it was going to be an evening of knowing smiles not riotously funny farce.  The audience seemed reticent. Although, I have to say, one nearby audience member was often in paroxysms of laughter. However, by the second half, I am happy to say, were the rest of the audience. 

This review first appeared in the Newbury Weekly News, 13th November 2014