It is farce, it is slapstick, and it is absolutely the most fun you will have this month. I’m talking about ‘Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense’, which opened at the Birmingham Rep last night. Starring Robert Webb as the eponymous upper class bumbler Bertie Wooster, Jason Thorpe as the sensible, clever manservant Jeeves, and Christopher Ryan as the old retainer Seppings, ‘Perfect Nonsense is a play within a play, the likes of which you won’t see anywhere else this year. It is sheer lunacy, and your funny bones may take some time to recover.
The story, starts with Bertie introducing the events surrounding the solid silver cow creamer that had happened the previous weekend. He decides to do this through performance, as he believes that acting is easy, but then proceeds to play himself throughout the play, leaving all the other characterisations to Jeeves and Seppings, with absolutely riotous results. The scenarios that Bertie encounters become more and more surreal, and funnier and funnier, until they reach a denouement, where, thanks to the ever faithful Jeeves, all his resolved. But there is just so much fun to be had before we reach the happy ending.
As Wooster, Robert Webb steps into a role he was born to play. Think a 1920s version of Tim Nice but Dim, all good intentions as he gets himself into the trickiest of situations, with absolutely no idea of how to get out of them in one piece. Webb’s Wooster is all effortless charm and knowing glances at the audience, with little asides, and genuine marvel at the way Jeeves and Seppings keep changing the set to fit the story – something Wooster never quite gets the hang of – hence entering one scene through a window.
Jason Thorpe is a tour de force as Jeeves. Essentially the straight man in the form of Jeeves, he becomes a comedy whirlwind when he takes on a range of different characters, including ‘Stiffy’ and my personal favourite, the myopic newt fancier Gussie Fink-Nottle. Thorpe works at breakneck pace, leaving the stage as one character, and within seconds, emerging as another. In one memorable scene, he plays two characters, determined by which side of his face/body is facing the audience.
I’ve loved Christopher Ryan since The Young Ones, but I think Seppings might be his piece de resistance. He is super funny, particular when playing the bow legged Aunt Dahlia, at one point forgetting her wig, and as the ‘6ft 8 inches’ Sir Roderick Spode, a dictator with an Hitler moustache and his own group of ‘Blackshorts’, he just dares you not to laugh out loud, as he is wheeled in and out of scenes, sometimes sans head.
Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense is based on the 1938 PG Wodehouse novel ‘The Code of the Woosters’, but has been bought bang up to date by writers Robert and David Goodale, who have harnessed the best of British humour – the anarchy, the irreverence for the upper classes, and the ability to poke fun of everyone and everything, and have turned it into a comedy to be cherished.
Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense runs at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre until 14th March. Check ticket information here.
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