Inclement weather, a flurry of Oscar-nominated films to see, a nasty bug, seasons 5 of both Mad Men and Breaking Bad to plough through and vague attemps to understand the hammer rule in the curling. It seemed Phil could think of plenty of excuses not to go to the theatre over the last few weeks.
Somehow he just hadn’t got around to Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense, so the announcement that there was to be a cast change (Mark Heap and Robert Webb from 7th of April) galvanised him into doing something about it.
This is P. G. Woodhouse‘s The Code of the Woosters by way of an adaptation from the Goodale Brothers and director Sean Foley. Bertie Wooster (Stephen Mangan) has decided to stage a play recounting his distressing experiences when his Aunt Dahlia dispatched him to Totleigh Towers to steal an antique silver cow-creamer. The rest of the plot is far too complicated to recount or indeed try and keep up with. Phil’s still trying to work out exactly what a cow-creamer is.
Faithful valet Jeeves (Matthew Macfadyen) and Aunt Dahlia’s doddery butler Steppings (Mark Hadfield) are called on to fill in all the other roles between them. Wooster is constantly amazed by Jeeves’ remarkable resourcefulness in both character playing and the inventiveness of Jeeves’ sets which become more elaborate as the show progresses.
One of Phil’s favourite moments (of many) was Wooster’s Act 2 surprise (SPOILER ALERT) at discovering they have a Steppings-powered stage revolve and a running (falling) gag every time it whirled into action.
If you don’t like the bonkers farcical silliness of One Man, Two Guvnors and the like, you may not warm to this either. But Phil’s face was frozen in rictus grin mode almost throughout. The three energetic performers are consistently hilarious. The diminutive Hadfield is brilliant as he tries to match the imposing stature of the fascist amateur dictator Spode (with “the sort of eye that can open an oyster at 60 paces”). Macfadyen deadpans superbly as Jeeves yet throws himself into cross-dressing with unexpected enthusiasm and an lampshade wig. Mangan’s endearingly daffy likeability factor almost goes off the scale.
There’s also considerable fourth wall-breaking. Phil wasn’t certain he was meant to respond when Mangan addressed him in his front row seat with a question, so stayed buttoned and received a cheery “I’ll get back to you”. Performances seem to be selling out but day seats up front are £25, though the stage is very high and the view is slightly restricted. On the plus side you might find yourself accommodating a policeman’s helmet, should that be your kind of thing.
Act 2 could be shortened a bit, or better yet, trim 20 minutes and dump the interval. Then it really would be perfect nonsense.