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Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense

A new play adapted from the works of PG Wodehouse
Chipping Norton Theatre, Wed 5 February - Sat 15 February 2020

In a joyous reimagining of the classic P.G. Wodehouse characters, three actors hurl themselves from role to role as they race to tell the story of Bertie’s own farcical adventures. Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense was created by the Goodale Brothers, adapted primarily from P.G. Wodehouse’s The Code of the Woosters. The show premiered at Richmond Theatre in 2013 with the lead roles being played by Stephen Mangan and Matthew Macfadyen, then transferred to the West End. It won the 2014 Olivier Award for Best New Comedy.

The show is being produced by The Theatre Chipping Norton in collaboration with the Barn Theatre in Cirencester, and is directed by Chipping Norton Theatre’s artistic director John Terry.

Bertie Wooster is played by Matthew Cavendish, who performs regularly with Mischief Theatre, appearing in The Play That Goes Wrong in the West End and on Broadway, as well as Peter Pan Goes Wrong and A Comedy About a Bank Robbery in the West End.

February 6, 2020
A farce within a farce within a farce

I genuinely didn’t know what to expect from tonight’s performance at The Theatre. My knowledge of PG Wodehouse begins and ends with distant memories of Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie’s TV adaptation of Jeeves & Wooster back in the early 1990s, and I was too young to appreciate the genius of Wodehouse’s writing back then. But a quick flick through the beautiful glossy and informative programme (a steal at £3!) assured me that I was in good company in my ignorance of the source material – all three actors claim to have known little about the author prior to performing in this play.

The opening night of this 5-month, 50-venue tour was buzzing for a cold Wednesday evening in the Cotswolds. The intimate venue lends itself to the chaos of the show, adapted from the works of Wodehouse by the Goodale Brothers nearly 30 years ago. Like a higgledy-piggledy old mansion of delights, the set is as adaptable as the three-man cast. Bertie Wooster sets the scene immediately as he wanders on-stage with script in hand, seemingly surprised that there’s an audience before him already. The loveable toff is charming in his innocent buffoonery, and Matthew Cavendish gets the performance pitch perfect. Initially alone on stage, he informs the auditorium that he has decided to put on a one-man show to tell of his recent experiences concerning ridiculously-named friends and acquaintances at Totleigh Towers. He soon realises he can’t possibly do this alone, and calls for Jeeves, the towering Andrew Ashford, who patiently makes suggestions on how Bertie can stage his play in the most practical way, enlisting the help of fellow butler, Seppings (Andrew Cullum) to share the burden of multiple roles. While Cavendish remains constant as Bertie throughout, Ashford and Cullum perform a whirlwind dance around the stage as a plethora of different characters, each one easily distinguishable from the last. Director John Terry explains in the programme how the starting point for his approach to the show is Jeeves, and his quiet, calm ability to ‘stage manage the whole affair’. Which he does with tireless aplomb.

With clarity of sound effects throughout – a door opening and shutting here, the opening of a sash window there – the inner workings of a theatre production are there for all to see, performed by all three characters onstage. One particular set piece that will remain with me for a long time is also Cavendish’s favourite use of the foley in the show – Seppings get rather involved “with a whole host of ludicrously elaborate sound effects” involving a railway crossing and a train, not to mention the genius of Jeeves’ wired scarf dancing in the breeze as he travels besides Bertie in his open-top car.

This production is the perfect tonic to the nonsense going on around us in the world. A couple of hours escaping into the chaotic, farcical world of Bertie Wooster as he trips from one misadventure to the next is just what the doctor ordered, resulting in a theatre bursting with genuine belly laughs as the audience struggles to keep up with the madness. An absolute joy!

What a delightful production. Inventive, witty, true to the spirit of PG and absolutely capturing that joyful, crazy, innocent era of Jeeves and Wooster.

Superb acting, perfect comic timing and a set that seamlessly enabled it all. Please go and see it - you’ll have a wonderful, entertaining night out. Absolutely 10 out of 10.

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