Writers: The Goodale Brothers
From a story by P.G. Wodehouse
Director: Philip Wilson
Designer: Colin Falconer
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
The Goodale Brothers’ adaptation of P.G. Wodehouse’s The Code of the Woosters as Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense opened in the West End five years ago and is already established as an audience favourite. Philip Wilson’s ingenious and endearing production brings the Lakes Season at York to an irreproachably entertaining conclusion.
The Goodales leave the narrative pretty much intact and even retain some of Wodehouse’s smartest gags. The usual elements are there: Bertie Wooster trying to escape accusations of criminality, the overwhelming attention of aunts and mistaken assumptions of his devotion to terrifying young women; ferocious members of the landed gentry making no attempt to conceal their contempt for him; foolish friends with impossible names landing him in desperate situations; policemen’s helmets subjected to various indignities and vicars embarrassing themselves. The imperturbable advice of Jeeves is always there, but he achieves fewer minor miracles than usual.
Bertie is dispatched by his Aunt Dahlia to Totleigh Towers, home to the formidable Sir Watkyn Bassett, to steal an 18th Century creamer for her husband Tom (not entirely unconvincing reasons for this are given) and also sets himself to getting the engagement of the dreamy Madeline Bassett and newt-loving Gussie Fink-Nottle back on track, well aware that Madeline sees him as first reserve.
Some elements of the story-line are skated over with speed and poor Stinker Pinker (on whom the responsibility falls for purloining the force’s headgear) is only talked of, not seen, but instead we have a fine example of that classic 21st Century sub-genre of theatre: the play that just manages to stagger through against the odds. Often using a known story (was The 39 Steps the first success of this type?), this involves a small number of plucky chaps (they’re usually chaps) trying ever so hard, playing multiple parts, improvising props, doing their best not to have conversations with themselves and being consumed with joy when something goes right.
The concept proves an effective – and very funny – way of treating a Jeeves and Wooster story. On a nearly bare stage Bertie starts to tell us the story of the awful time he’s been having, then finds it beyond him to sustain both sides of a conversation with Jeeves. So could Jeeves perhaps play himself? Of course – not only that, he recruits Seppings, Aunt Dahlia’s butler, and has prepared some very jolly scenery, some not quite finished, to help the young master’s tale.
Thomas Richardson’s immensely likeable Bertie Wooster radiates wonder and confusion, confides amiably in the audience and needs no excuse to slip into a nifty Charleston. Theo Foster Steele has less opportunity to glide soundlessly into rooms and confound all with his dominant intellect than many a Jeeves. Instead, in an inspired twist by the Goodales, splendidly realized by Steele, he shows his mastery by flying in scenery, changing the lighting with a snap of his fingers, disappearing and instantly reappearing as someone else somewhere else, even splitting himself into simultaneous male and female characters. If anything, James Duke as Seppings exceeds him in the number of quick changes, the most striking in his gallery of eccentrics being a wonderfully county Aunt Dahlia, with a voice trained on the hunting field, and the Hitler-moustached leader of the Black Shorts, Roderick Spode, his vast height rendered by various impractical means.
Colin Falconer’s designs, Johanna Town’s lighting and Jon Nicholls’ music are all of a piece with Philip Wilson’s stylish production.
Reviewed on 17 November 2018 | Image: Robert Day