Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense, Newcastle Theatre Royal until Saturday
This is a touring play that pretty much does what it says on the tin. But has so much energy ever been expended, I wonder, on serving up such perfect nonsense on stage?
PG Wodehouse, the great master of soufflé story-telling, limited his exertions in later years to periodic strolls to the mail box to deliver his latest manuscript and his ‘daily dozen’, a set of gentle stretching exercises that he performed between breakfast and the first pipe of the day.
In his name, James Lance (Bertie Wooster), John Gordon Sinclair (Jeeves, but not exclusively) and Robert Goodale (Seppings and others) are tying themselves in knots nightly to tell a daft and convoluted story of misfiring romance and a coveted cow creamer.
The latter object, incidentally, is a manifestation of supreme silliness – a cream or milk jug in the shape of a cow. I’ve actually seen them on sale in 21st Century Tyneside and scratched my head in wonder. In the world of Wodehouse, a cow creamer can power a plot like the PV-12 Merlin used to drive the Spitfire, saviour of our skies.
It took me a little while, I’ll confess, to adjust to the nature of this enterprise.
Directed by Sean Foley, who did a similar job on Morecambe and Wise in The Play What I Wrote (and similarly earned an Olivier Award for his troubles), it is not so much Wodehouse as Wodehousian.
It was devised by Wodehouse fans David and Robert Goodale (yes, that’s him playing Seppings, mostly) who borrowed the characters, the language and the settings of the famous stories to create a homage to their creator.
It is also a play within a play which stars Bertie as himself and Jeeves and Seppings in an array of bonkers characters. There is much climbing in and out of windows and hiding under beds. There is a story and inside the story there’s another story and... well, you’ll get there in the end.
On a night when the theatre was nowhere near full, the wide-eyed and unquenchable vivacity (or stupidity) of James Lance’s Bertie won us over. Likewise Sinclair, a man you would not imagine to be especially supple but who is required to transform from irritable patriarch to fluting femme fatale in the blink of an eye.
At one point, as he’s humping a prop into place, Jeeves advises Bertie it’s best not to remark on “the theatrical devices”. They are indeed very clever and funny and it’s nice that the star can share the audience’s enthusiasm.
Out of all the infectious physical nonsense, the wonder of Wodehouse flashes through, as in: “The news hit me rather as one who picking daisies on the railway is hit by the 4.15 in the small of the back.” Or words to that effect. Brilliant.