Writer: P. G. Wodehouse
Adapters: The Goodale Brothers
Original Director: Sean Foley
Tour Director: David Goodale
Reviewer: Lucy Corley
There’s plenty of nonsense to be had in this hilarious lark, although it falls a little short of perfect.
Perfect Nonsense is adapted from the Jeeves novels and short stories by P. G. Wodehouse, set in 1920s-30s London and featuring loveable but gormless aristocrat Bertie Wooster and his unflappable valet, Jeeves. Fans of the books will recognise all the favourite and inimitable Wodehouse characters: Gussie Fink-Nottle, Aunt Dahlia, Roderick Spode and Sir Watkyn Bassett, to name a few – all played by a cast of three.
The genius of this script lies in its self-parody: it fully acknowledges the difficulty of staging a novel with about 20 characters set in multiple enormous country houses, with three actors on tour. Neatly and comically sidestepping this problem, this adaptation has Jeeves (Joseph Chance) and Wooster (Matthew Carter) staging a play about themselves. Wooster talks directly to the audience from the moment the curtain rises and he awakes from a doze in his armchair, somewhat taken aback to find himself on stage and being observed expectantly. In a ludicrously upper-class accent, he proceeds to narrate the story of a recent escapade in his life with all the rambling tangents, stops, starts and turnings back of Wodehouse’s first person narratives.
Despite a hint of first-night nerves, Carter is excellent as the eternally calm, measured Jeeves – a force of good sense whose deep, booming voice is a foil to Chance’s babbling yet endearing Wooster. The Goodale Brothers manage to translate much of Wodehouse’s style to the stage: instead of well-timed snifters and hangover cures, Jeeves produces sets and props at the drop of a hat – much to the astonishment of his open-mouthed master (“It’s called scenery, sir. It’s quite widely used in the theatre”).
Third performer (and co-adapter) Robert Goodale steals the show as Seppings, the elderly, stooping butler who, Wooster explains, will be helping out by playing all the other parts. “All the other parts” includes Bertie’s indomitable Aunt Dahlia and the terrifyingly tall Roderick Spode, and much of the joy of this play lies in Seppings’ panicked expressions as he works out how to make himself six foot nine, or zips from one character to another (costume changes and all) in the space of five seconds. Jeeves/Carter also has his share of supporting rôles to play: his Gussie Fink-Nottle is spot on and his turn playing two characters in the same scene wins a deserving ovation.
For all its comic strengths, this production is not without its faults: the farcical style is not for everyone, and some audience members do not return after the interval. Like many Wodehouse adaptations, it tends towards the over-the-top when it could do more with subtlety: Wooster’s high-pitched guffaws at random moments create awkward pauses and slapstick moments add little to the performance. The play’s love of all things Wodehouse is a weakness as well as a strength – writers Robert and David Goodale apparently could not bear to leave anything out, meaning the story is drawn out rather longer than necessary. Likewise, the wordy script includes so many instances of Wodehouse’s verbose comedy that the audience’s attention inevitably flags in places.
Nonetheless, the sheer energy of the three cast members makes this show worth watching. Aided by the tricks of Alice Power’s ingeniously-designed set, they keep us entertained with increasingly implausible gags: a rogue lampshade, apparent teleportation and a giant Roderick Spode on wheels have the audience literally roaring with laughter. While it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, for fans of comedy or Wodehouse Perfect Nonsense is well worth a visit.
Runs until 3October 2015.