Tag Archives: P.G. Wodehouse

“By Jeeves” from The Shows Must Go On!

Far from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s biggest hit, with a complicated history of rewrites, you might think this week’s digital offering – as usual aiming to raise money for charity – is merely a curio. But this PG Wodehouse-inspired piece, with a lot of talent behind it, makes for diverting entertainment, and Webber’s enthusiasm convinces, even if it isn’t contagious.

The book and, even better, the lyrics come from none other than Alan Ayckbourn. Of course, success depends on how much you like Wodehouse (and I don’t). But the crazy capers of the archetypal nice-but-dim toff and his superior butler are true to the spirit of the original. The story of mixed identities and confused romances is well explicated. And those lyrics are the height of sophistication and silliness – again, the perfect reflection of its source. Let’s just say that Wittgenstein is one of many unexpected rhymes.

There are problems. Ayckbourn also directs, and he does so far too slowly. It takes an age for things to get started and the pace doesn’t pick up enough. The songs are good but there aren’t enough of them and, on a couple of occasions, their inclusion seems almost random. The jokes, too many of which revolve around on the conceit of Bertie putting on a show, are too predictable.

The recording offered is based on the production from Pittsburgh’s Goodspeed Opera House and dates from 2001. Cleverly, the show’s small scale is reflected well. And the cast is top notch. John Scherer is appropriately bumbling as Wooster and sounds great. While Jeeves, who only has a speaking role, is performed by Martin Jarvis, who makes the whole thing look so effortless, he could be filming something else when he’s off stage.

The show’s stronger scenes go to the women, in the roles of Honoria Glossop, Madeline Bassett and Stiffy Byng, resulting in strong performances for Donna Lynne Champlin, Becky Watson and Emily Loesser. The men, you see, have the “combined IQ of 42” and, while this is supposed to be increasingly funny, it ends up tiresome. Maybe the show could have been even more knowing? When Ayckbourn and Lloyd Webber let go it improves. A crazy finale provides a highlight: ‘It’s A Pig’ about, well, a housebreaking hog, is so odd I’m glad I’ve seen it… even if just the once.

Available on The Show Must Go On! YouTube channel until 10 May 2020

“Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense” at the Duke of York’s

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