Jeeves and Wooster Perfect Nonsense
NOTE: Cast changed since this review
PG Wodehouse's most famous non-theatrical creation Jeeves has, of course, been in the West End before -- as a one-man show in 1980 by Edward Duke called Jeeves Takes Charge, and as a notorious Andrew Lloyd Webber and Alan Ayckbourn flop musical five years before that (called simply Jeeves) that returned more successfully to the Duke of York's in 1996, by then re-titled By Jeeves. Now the Duke of York's is home again for a new stage play called Perfect Nonsense, that a programme note asserts is the first time one of his novels will have adapted for the West End stage.
To be frank a little of Jeeves goes a long way for me; I find myself watching his antics and hearing his anecdotes through, if not gritted teeth, then at best a fixed smile. So it is only fair to say that members of the audience around me were laughing far more freely than I was, but also that I could see the reason for some of their mirth. Director Sean Foley certainly provides enough visual gags of his own to keep the thing buoyant and fast, while the Goodale Brothers script -- adapted from Wodehouse's The Code of the Woosters that they previously also adapted for a one-man show that Robert Goodale performed at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1993-- is packed with Wodehouse's trademark verbal polish and punch.
But it simply doesn't deliver the killer blow for me. I smiled a lot, but laughed out loud just a few times. Nevertheless, I will also admit that I was greatly impressed by the trio of fine actors who bring a furious commitment and playful energy to it as they set off on a chase for a silver cow creamer (don't ask) that the convoluted plot revolves around.
Stephen Mangan brings a mouth full of teeth and an infuriating honking laugh to Bertie Wooster, while Matthew Macfadyen is kept busy as both his valet Jeeves and stepping in for numerous other supporting roles (including, at one point, two of them at the same time, one male, one female, and both in separate costume, too, using the old vaudeville trick of dressing each half of the body differently). Macfadyen, with his tall, bulky frame, reminded me at times of David Haig on steroids.
Best of all is Mark Hadfield, boisterously filling in all the other roles with unflagging energy. But even though Sean Foley's spruce and spirited production, with an amazingly resourceful design by Alice Power, keeps the physical comedy flowing throughout, I found my own energy flagging long before the end.
"I suspect that Wodehouse himself would have loved this production, and there is no doubt that it captures the dotty, sunlit innocence of his work with panache. "
Charles Spencer for Daily Telegraph
Paul Taylor for The Independent
"It's an evening that reveals more of Wodehouse's gift for farce than of his matchless verbal felicity."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"This unapologetically frivolous show should entertain those who have never been exposed to Wodehouse, and devotees will lap it up."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard