It is a tempting title. Jeeves and Wooster, posterboys of bonkers British humour, in ‘Perfect Nonsense’. And yet, I was nervous. P.G. Wodehouse, from whose books the play has been adapted, is the master of perfect nonsense – but would it translate to the stage?
I needn’t have worried. This brilliantly funny adaptation of The Code of the Woosters is energetic, crazy and more importantly, hilarious.
The play follows the attempts of clueless aristocrat Bertie Wooster and his highly competent butler Jeeves to stage their own play, recounting the madcap misadventures of one disastrous weekend in the country. This staging device works brilliantly to create an abundance of visual humour as three cast members portray a whole host of characters, including simpering Madeline Basset, newt-obsessed Gussy Finknottle and Bertie’s Aunt Dahlia, who is hell-bent on stealing an antique cow-creamer.
The cast handle the complexity of juggling such a variety of roles with ease. More impressively still, they all manage a flawless choreography of physical farce, including an excellently devised slow-motion fight.
The structure also allows for continual laughter, as the scenery, sound effects and costumes become more elaborate, the audience settles into its role as a fourth character, and Jeeves finds increasingly more bizarre uses for the props. Throughout the performance, nonsense is gleefully present, with puppets, rubber ducks and detachable facial hair creating a whirlwind of madness that leaves the audience captive in its wake.
The Mad cap misadventures of one disastrous weekend in the country
But, does this catalogue of codswallop live up to that punishing adjective, ‘Perfect’? Very nearly. Joseph Chance and co-writer Robert Goodale are fantastic and tireless, and give a comedic masterclass as they bring to life a seemingly endless parade of colourful characters. An honourable mention here goes to Chance’s fantastically sassy eyebrow, which really comes into its own portraying the commanding Jeeves – and his immovable opinions on mens’ trousers.
However, the man with the hardest task was Matthew Carter as Bertie Wooster, a character fixed in the popular imagination by Hugh Laurie. In my opinion, Carter struggles to capture the irresistible charm of the dim-witted Wooster, which can leave the characterisation a little flat and unbelievable at times. His job isn’t made any easier by the chunks of narration and dialogue he is given, mostly lifted directly from the novels. In a play that relies so heavily (and to such hilarious effect) on the physical – on scenery moving and dogs barking and characters literally growing – the narration feels a little clunky, and loses the humour it has on the page. The plot, which is convoluted to start with, suffers even more from the cacophony of farce, often entirely drowned out. I still couldn’t tell you exactly who was cross with whom and as for how it all got resolved? I am clueless.
Overall, though, that doesn’t matter. It is an eminently enjoyable way to spend an evening. The gags come thick and fast throughout; the audience loved it and I was rolling in my seat. Is it perfect nonsense? Possibly not. At any rate, dash it all, its certainly Jolly Good Nonsense.