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Jeeves and Wooster: Perfect Nonsense, Duke of York's Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Jeeves and Wooster: Perfect Nonsense, Duke of York's Theatre

Jeeves and Wooster: Perfect Nonsense, Duke of York's Theatre

P.G. Wodehouse's beloved characters hit the West End in a new, fast-paced comedy

Matthew Macfadyen and Stephen Mangan as Jeeves and WoosterUli Weber

In several of P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster stories, reference is made to something called "a knockabout cross-talk act". It's a two-handed sketch, usually performed at a village hall smoking concert or similar, in which the protagonists put on fake beards and terrible Irish accents to become "Pat" and "Mike". They then proceed to trade nonsensical insults and bust each other "over the bean" with umbrellas.

This farce continues until they are removed from the stage, most often by one of Wooster's ever-ready phalanx of outraged aunts, to wild applause from the audience.

It might not be the most well-known element of the Jeeves canon, but this little scene has more in common with this new stage outing for the famous double act than you might expect. Perfect Nonsense is a brilliant farce, which takes Wodehouse's genius for getting his characters into the most improbable and complicated plot tangles and translates it into a well-oiled show bursting with physical comedy. There is indeed a bit of business with an umbrella, but also a vast array of laughs to be had from doors, windows, bicycles, lampshades, sheets and of course, a silver cream jug shaped like a cow.

Stephen Mangan and Matthew Macfadyen onstage as Wooster and JeevesThis is a play-within-a-play, since Bertie (Stephen Mangan, right, with Macfadyen) has hired out a theatre to tell the story of his hair-raising adventures dodging fiances and fascists while trying to pinch silverware at Totleigh Towers. His valet Jeeves (Matthew Macfadyen) and his aunt's butler Seppings (Mark Hadfield) are helping out, mostly by playing a dizzying array of relations, magistrates, policemen, dictators, newt-fanciers and young ladies as Wooster spins his yarn. Macfadyen, who proves himself to be an extremely accomplished and versatile comic actor, does a lot of the hard work, at one point even playing two characters simultaneously in a hybrid costume divided vertically down his body. Mangan, meanwhile, is just as Bertie Wooster ought to be:  an irresistibly endearing combination of privilege, stupidity and honour. Even his honking toff's laugh elicits giggles from the stalls.

Macfadyen manages to maintain a touch of Jeeves-like wryness throughout

The adaptation rattles along very pleasingly and the set is brilliantly intricate, but the real star of the show is still Wodehouse's writing. Roderick Spode, would-be dictator and leader of fascist movement the "Black Shorts", is described as having "an eye that could open an oyster at fifty paces" and eating asparagus in a way that "alters one's whole conception of man as nature's last word". Lifted straight out of The Code of the Woosters, the story on which this play is based, dialogue like this gets bigger laughs even than the sight of Macfadyen wearing a lampshade on his head to suggest femininity while impersonating Madeline Bassett.

In accordance with a centuries-old tradition more usually found at the Globe than on the West End, the play ends with a dance  – a Charleston to be precise. Macfadyen manages to maintain a touch of Jeeves-like wryness throughout, while Mangan, resplendent in a red velvet smoking jacket, puts Bertie Wooster's heart and soul into every high kick. Who could ask for anything more?

  • Perfect Nonsense is at the Duke of York's Theatre until 8 March
The adaptation rattles along and the set is brilliantly intricate, but Wodehouse's writing is the star of the show


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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