Writer: The Goodale Brothers, from the works of PG Wodehouse
Director: Sean Foley
Reviewer: Christopher Hong
On a bare stage, Bertie Wooster begins the play by addressing the audience about reenacting the happenings ofthe past few days. He has been told he is a wonderful actor, so he has decided to tell this story in a theatre himself. Soon, in typical Wooster manner, he realises there are needs for scenery and characters which he had not quite thought about. The sound of hammering duly comes through the wing and Jeeves wheels out the first of many pieces of scenery gradually added as the play goes on. Jeeves also brings along his acquaintance Seppings to help out with the proceedings.
Adapted from The Code Of The Wooster, the play within a play tells the story of Bertie’s mission to sneer at a silver cow creamer in an antique shop leading to a series of encounters involving a police helmet, marriage proposal and a six-foot-eight dictator lookalike. So far, so Jeeves and Wooster. However, the plot is completely secondary to the comedy and even the structure of the story.
The set up, the acknowledgement of the audience and back and forth nature of the fourth wall are a great source of comedy. A costume change is an opportunity to throw out a line “There are boring bits in every play and this is one of those” and is very effective. The conceit highlights and makes fun of theatrical devices and there is an ingenious way of introducing the revolving stage to the play. This deconstructs the technicalities for the audience while using the cover of explaining them to the constantly baffled Bertie. The slapstick comedy works well but the plot is a little complicated. Every time the plot needs to be untangled and moved forward, the comedy and fun stops.
Playing Bertie, Stephen Mangan starts the evening with a faux posh accent which quickly disappears after the first scene. Yet he captures a sheltered naivete and his dependence on Jeeves while at his best with his knowing nods and interactions with the audience. Matthew Macfadyen as Jeeves is as prim, understated and capable as expected but perhaps lacking a twinkle of knowingness. He comes alive when playing the various other characters such as the near blind and bookish Roderick Spode, the stern and dubious Sir Watkyn Bassett and the gushing Stiffy Byng. There is great support from Mark Hadfield as Seppings who compensates for the relative physical stiffness in both Mangan and Macfadyen with his fluid physical comedy.
Despite a few shortcomings, there is enough cleverness and fun to be enjoyed. And regardless whether you are familiar with the source material, the universality of the characters makes it an entertaining evening for all.