P.G. Wodehouse’s legendary comic characters, the nice-but-dim Jeeves and his gentlemen’s gentlemen Wooster, have been brought to the stage in an adaptation from Robert and David Goodale. In Perfect Nonsense, the strategy of dealing with Wodehouse’s elaborate plots and precise humour is to present the evening as a show that Bertie, played by Stephen Mangan, is putting on.
Matthew Macfadyen’s Jeeves and Mark Hadfield, as his fellow butler Seppings, take on all the roles and provide the scenery. The impromptu staging, which aims to be another source of humour, makes this the lightest of comedies and the show becomes that prized thing – family-friendly fun.
Pretending to improvise as they go along is a neat enough move, and it gets laughs, although it has to be said that it’s been done better before. We see Mangan’s shocked face, as the scenery appears and moves around, far too often. But it’s a perfect gurn for the part and all the cast are undoubtedly strong. Both Mangan and Macfadyen have the stage presence to make the roles work, but Hadfield steals many a scene as both an “ancestor Aunt” and the sinister Roderick Spode, who threatens to turn Bertie into jelly. But the venture into amateur dramatics makes the unflappable Jeeves, well, flappable, and getting dragged up as Madeline Bassett is surely beneath him, no matter how well Macfadyen manages.
The physical comedy is good. And gags that come from Alice Power’s sets and costumes have their appeal. It’s a shame, though, that experienced director Sean Foley, who had such a hit with The Lady Killers, hasn’t put more speed into the show. There’s so much repetition the evening feels stretched rather than exhibiting the relaxed insouciance that might be more appropriate for its characters. Some of the pacing comes dangerously close to milking the jokes. And the lack of momentum means the show toys with silliness without ever really ascending into farce. But Wodehouse’s lines are, of course, seriously funny. His devoted followers will love hearing them; even if Perfect Nonsense doesn’t convert many new ones, this is a show fans should adore.
Until 8 March 2013
Written 13 November 2013 for The London Magazine