Sunday, 28 September 2014

Birthmonth Day Twenty-Eight: Jeeves & Wooster


I always said and intended to be a veterinary nurse when I grew up, right up until I actually had to put some effort into that.  I was put off by The Form Tutor telling me that I was smart enough to be a veterinary doctor, rather than a nurse, which made me feel like The Lifelong Ambition had been something to be derided and uncomfortable because I had wanted to be a nurse specifically because I wanted to do the caring rather than making the live or die decisions.  And then The Best Friend’s Mother said I would never make it as a veterinary nurse because I wouldn’t be able to cope with the animals dying, which was offensive because she was suggesting I hadn’t put any actual thought into The Lifelong Ambition.  And that was about it for me. 
I was sick of people telling me that there was something wrong with The Ambition, so I thought fine, screw you all, I won’t do this useful career.  I’ll do The Dream Job instead.  So I decided to become an actor.

So anyway…

Not being millionaires, The Housemate and I cannot afford to go to all the theatre shows that take our fancy and there are a lot of good-looking shows and interesting actors bobbing around the West End.  So this year we decided that we could have one vote each, but a show would have to really really really take our fancy and if we bought tickets for it then that was it, no more votes for the rest of the year.

I cast my vote aaaages ago, but The Housemate still had his.

What happened was this:  The Housemate saw on Twitter that Robert Webb was plugging the fact that he was going to be in Jeeves and Wooster in the West End.  We both love Robert Webb.  But that wasn’t a good enough reason to fork out for West End tickets.  After all, Jeeves & Wooster are a double act, so it would really depend on who was playing Jee—

Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense (a new play from the works of P G Wodehouse, by The Goodale Brothers/Ambassador Theatre Group/Duke Of York’s/11th June 2014)

Based on The Code Of The Woosters, which coincidentally The Housemate was reading at the time, the show is told from the point of view of Wooster, who acts out the story with his butler Jeeves and some other butler playing multiple roles.

Opening with Robert Webb was good.  I like Robert Webb.  But when Mark Heap came on I realised what a thankless role Jeeves is.  He might be the archetype that all butlers have been based on since, but he doesn’t get to have any fun.  So I was extremely relieved when Mark Heap started playing the other roles, particularly the women.  (The Butler who is obsessed with J&W was annoyed to see Jeeves doing this sort of thing, which he thought was out of character, but frankly the less Jeeves-Jeeves the better for me.)

I felt a little sorry for the other guy though.  Who makes Jeeves and Wooster a three man show?  It always felt a little like there was a third wheel around.

And if I’m honest, it wasn’t as funny as it could be.  It was funny, but repeated jokes never escalated as much as they could have and scene after scene ended without a really funny line.  It was all a bit ‘could be funnier’.  Which is no reflection on the actors, who were marvellous.  Just the writing needed to be sharper at times.

And maybe I was harsher on it because we’ve seen The 39 Steps, which is a similar concept of one character narrating a story in which a small amount of actors play multiple roles with minimal props, and is absolutely hilarious.

It was an enjoyable show (I like those ‘multiple role’ comedies) but it never quite peaked its head out of the shadow of the fact that we’ve seen The 39 Steps, which is just better.

But still, Robert Webb is charming, Mark Heap makes a hilarious woman, and the stage trickery of one actor playing more than one character in the same scene was at times utterly sublime.

What's your favourite Jeeves and Wooster story?


  1. Sadly, it's not just The 39 Steps - there's a whole river of anarchic street-theatre shows just like Perfect Nonsense, with actors swapping roles as often (and as easily) as hats.

    The Ha Ha gang are a great example: we've had several of their shows at The Theatre I Work At, so Ha Ha Hitler, Hamlet, Holmes etc., and they're always a loony joy to watch. There's The Reduced Shakespeare Company and the like, who condense huge, serious works into silly revues. There's The 39 Steps, obviously, which makes the most of props and totally dead-pan silliness. And One Man Star Wars, just a guy and a mic, where he even does the sound effects.

    None of which means you can't keep finding new ways to explore this mode of theatre - I liked all the shows I just listed, they're all individual. Just that, in the case of Perfect Nonsense, it really didn't add much to what I'd seen before. Those particular actors are mainly what was going for it.

    1. The odd thing is, I don't actually love The 39 Steps as much as I have been saying. Both times I saw it, I was with someone who was enjoying it more than me. Yet I'm still using it as the bar of excellence.

  2. Also, in case you are curious, that is exactly what your frown looks like.

    1. Well I am an artistic genius.


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