Thursday 7 November 2013

Theatre Review: Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense (Duke of York's)

Well, I’m dashed. Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense pairs Matthew Macfadyen and Stephen Mangan as P.G. Wodehouse’s beloved comic creations in a play adapted by Robert and David Goodale from the 1938 The Code of the Woosters and directed by Sean Foley. Following a brief tour the production has now pitched up in the West End where it’s booking until March next year. Not being much of a Wodehouse enthusiast my expectations for the evening rested mostly on Foley’s involvement: I enjoyed the quirky, boldly theatrical spin that the director put on his production of The Ladykillers a couple of years ago. (Recast, that production is currently back in the West End too.)

Foley certainly strives to bring a similar kind of brio to his latest outing, but the results prove much less successful. Indeed, I’d rank Perfect Nonsense as one of the archest, smuggest, most superfluous productions that the West End has seen in many a long year. A show-offy star vehicle for its actors, its Woman in Black-derived conceit is that the action is unfolding in a theatre that Bertie has hired to stage his story of a disastrous weekend and where, as usual, he requires Jeeves’s expert aid to help him out. And so, while the cobbled-together plot goes hang, the evening becomes a roll-call of fussy, meta set-pieces featuring much wink-wink audience address, a lot of rolling on of scenery, the highlighting of location shifts, and the actors (multi-tasking Mark Hadfield completes the trio) leaping manically from role to role and generally mugging it up like there's no tomorrow. Macfadyen does drag (rather scarily). Mangan bares his teeth and jumps up and down a lot. A little toy dog (apparently this season’s must-have theatrical item following the appearance of one in the Orange Tree’s Dorothea’s Story) yaps away. Beds get hidden under and windows jumped from.        

What’s lacking, fatally, is a semblance of wit or charm. In strenuously flagging up the farcical elements, Foley makes the production a terminally self-conscious, strained affair in which you don’t even feel much genuine affection for the original material. He’s clearly directed the show with both eyes fixed firmly on the One Man, Two Guvnors crowd and, to judge by the rapturous reception (including some ovators!), they’re responding as intended. But I'd say it's a poor show, chaps.     



  1. I was interested to read this review as we had debated whether to go see the play at the Theatre Royal in Brighton. I'm glad now that we chose to spend the money on seeing a couple of (even more) local independent plays instead!

  2. I'd say you certainly made the right choice there! Though the show seems to have plenty of admirers...

  3. Two ovations...I just didn't get it. Less Wodehouse, more 'allo, 'allo I felt.