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A CurtainUp London Review
Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense
The original circa 1930 stories are about an upper class twit, Bertie Wooster and his very resourceful valet Jeeves (Macfadyen), who extricates Bertie from no end of pickles. The difference here at the Duke of York's is that most of the humour is about the staging of this story, so that Jeeves will play an attractive and seductive woman wearing a fringed lampshade and a net curtain over his suit. It is very clever physical comedy but as my readers know, I prefer word driven comedy to the merely silly.
Somehow I think I too seriously identify with the physical mishaps to fully enjoy these calamities happening to others. But fortunately for this production I am largely alone in a guffawing audience who thoroughly enjoy a good farce.
The set piece joke of a set is one which starts with bare bricks and is slowly brought in by Jeeves with a fireplace, flames of red silk made to move on sticks and a picture above, which rotates according to the style of the building. The fireplace tiles too will change according to venue and the whole set can be later moved by power cycling (or could this be recycling) on a fixed bicycle. A ceiling complete with candelabra seemed to get stuck as it descended and the audience waited for it to come crashing down.
Stephen Mangan is perfect as the rather silly Wooster with his irritating laugh and flashing grin with brilliantly white overbite teeth. When Madeleine says to him, "You know your Shelley, Bertie," Bertie replies "Oh am I?"
The wonderful opening scene of Act Two is Bertie in a pedestal bath with feet where Jeeves's quick manipulation of a towel, dropping it as if it is a curtain, saves Wooster's dignity as he gets out of the bath. Much of the humour is based on mistakes and scenic tricks but some of the characterisation of the Wodehouse characters is finely acted by Hadfield and Macfadyen, assisted of course by Mangan's spirited exuberance. Hadfield's interpretation of Bertie's eccentric aunt Dahlia is particularly fine. The costume changes must mean that at the rear of the stage is the most remarkable exertion and indeed to solve the problem of playing both Stiffy and her male relative in one scene, Macfadyen wears a half and half costume.
On the night I saw Perfect Nonsense there were Wodehouse fans who disagreed about the production values. One thought the anarchic production captured the spirit of Wodehouse's characters and another that the physical comedy detracted from Wodehouse's written jokes. Fantastic fun for fans of farce!
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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