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Laughter beckons as Jeeves and Wooster arrive on Tyneside

There’s much more to John Gordon Sinclair than Gregory’s Girl - David Whetstone talks to the latest actor cast in the role of Jeeves

Uli Weber John Gordon Sinclair (Jeeves) and James Lance (Bertie Wooster)
John Gordon Sinclair (Jeeves) and James Lance (Bertie Wooster)

Jeeves and Wooster are one of the perfect comic pairings, the one utterly dependent on the other – at least in literary terms (in real life the smooth ‘gentleman’s gentleman’, Jeeves, could manage just fine without his bumbling employer, Bertie Wooster).

Here I am, though, talking to the man who plays Jeeves and he’s mourning a separation that never happened.

It is a day or two after the Scottish referendum result and Glasgow-born John Gordon Sinclair admits to a niggling sense of regret.

“There was a mixture of emotions but I think mostly disappointment. I think it would have been quite nice to try an alternative. It’s not been that great for the last six or seven years.

“On the other hand I think if it had been a yes vote not much would have changed. I don’t think it’s going to go away, though, and I think maybe Newcastle and Manchester and Liverpool should join us and become part of Scotland.”

Now there’s a thought... from an actor who has been on the road (and garnering great reviews, I might add) while playing a character so English that it might be stamped through him like a stick of rock.

PG Wodehouse, in umpteen comic novels, created the archetypes of well-heeled English society in the first decades of the 20th Century. It was a fantasy world that has endured, spawning TV adaptations and spin-offs including this touring stage show.

The show closed in the West End last month, earlier than expected, but not because of audience dissatisfaction.

Someone I know and respect called it one of the funniest stage shows she had ever seen and it did win the 2014 Olivier Award for best new comedy.

It isn’t exactly PG Wodehouse, however. Jeeves &; Wooster in Perfect Nonsense is, as that award suggests, a new play based on and adapted from the short stories and novels of the famous author by brothers Robert and David Goodale.

John Gordon Sinclair (Jeeves) and James Lance (Wooster) are the third pair to step into the celebrated shoes and the former is honest enough to tell me: “I’d never have cast myself in this show.

“I met the producer just before we finished in London and that’s what I said to him – here I am, the archetypal Scotsman, playing the archetypal Englishman. That’s a bit of a weird mix.

“A lot of people have said, ‘Is it going to be the first Scottish Jeeves?’ Why would they ask that?”

Uli Weber John Gordon Sinclair as Jeeves and James Lance as Bertie Wooster
John Gordon Sinclair as Jeeves and James Lance as Bertie Wooster

At this point, I sense a second reason for that tremor of disappointment. John Gordon Sinclair is Scottish – fair enough. But he is also a fine actor who can do all sorts of things that actors do... like, er, accents.

“I’ve done American,” he says. “In fact, I’ve done more in American than in English. But I play five different characters in this play.

“I met someone the other day after the show who had never met me before, a friend of James Lance, and she said, ‘Why are you talking with a Scottish accent?’ I think she thought I was still acting.”

The tale, told against himself, serves to explain why he was cast in the part. Scottish he may be off stage but for PG Wodehouse fans who see him on stage he promises to be so English you’ll never get a hint of the Saltire.

Possibly part of the problem for John Gordon Sinclair is the early fame he acquired in Bill Forsyth’s very Scottish and very successful film Gregory’s Girl. Sinclair was only 19 when he played the gawky but appealing Gregory of the title.

Even in the press release for this play, the actor is described as “best-known for playing Gregory”. But that film came out in 1981.

I have to ask him about it and the question, while fielded politely, is done so with a bit of a sigh.

“People keep saying why do you keep talking about the film but people keep asking me about it. I never bring it up as a topic of conversation.

“People who write these press releases tend not to tell you about the other stuff I’ve done.

“I’m definitely grateful for the film because I wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for that. I’ve got lots of great memories and it was a fantastic start to life. But over the years there has been so much said. It’s not that I’m ashamed, it’s just that I don’t really know what else to say about it.”

So we’ll talk about Jeeves and Wooster instead.

“I’d never read any PG Wodehouse and still haven’t. Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie did it on TV years ago but I deliberately didn’t go back to it.

“I thought I wanted to come at it fresh. Jeeves is a very specific character and there’s only so much you can do with it but the great thing about this show is that I play five charatcers and there are 19 quick changes.

“This is not really like a cosy 1930s PG Wodehouse fireside comedy. Actually it’s not at all like that. People come along expecting that and are pleasantly surprised, I think.

“It’s more like a cross between PG Wodehouse and Monty Python. It’s very physical and there are a lot of very clever moments in it when you’ll think, that’s just genius.”

The director is Sean Foley who also helped to make The Play What I Wrote and The Ladykillers great stage successes (my interviewee appearing in the latter in the West End).

“Which is how this came about,” says Sinclair. “When I was asked to do it I knew Sean had directed it and it was a bit of a no-brainer.”

John Gordon Sinclair himself is anything but a no-brainer. He has just seen his second novel published. Blood Whispers follows on the heels of Seventy Times Seven which came out in 2012.

“Once I go on tour, once I get my days back, I’m going to do a third. Ideally I’d love to do 50/50 acting and writing.”

The first novel, he says, is a thriller set in Northern Ireland and Alabama. The second is “a very loose follow-up”.

A lot of people, according to the author, have suggested they’re “very filmic”.

“When I’m writing them, I’m trying to describe a film that’s running in my head. I know there’s someone who’s interested in buying the rights to the second novel so there is interest.”

This is a world away from Gregory’s Girl and PG Wodehouse, as is Sinclair’s recent appearance in World War Z, a zombie film in which he played a US Navy SEAL in a cast headed by Brad Pitt.

“The section I was involved in took five weeks to film but it was about three minutes’ worth of movie. There were only five of us involved in this action scene, including Brad Pitt.”

And for the record: “He was amazing, utterly charming and with a great goofball sense of humour which I didn’t expect.”

So if a John Gordon Sinclair novel gets the big screen thumbs up, that’s the star sorted. At least it should give the writers of press releases something else to attribute to an actor who deserves to be lauded for something other than the achievements of 33 years ago.

Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense is at the Theatre Royal from October 14-18. Box office: 08448 112121 or www.theatreroyal.co.uk

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David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer