Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense (Tour – Salford)

James Lance delivers an excellent comic performance in ”Jeeves and Wooster – Perfect Nonsense” at the Lowry.

Jeeves and Wooster - Perfect Nonsense
Jeeves and Wooster – Perfect Nonsense

The comic tales of P G Wodehouse portray aristocrats as dim-witted but essentially harmless.

A theatrical production based on his works at a time when the Coalition Government has demonstrated conclusively that the ruling class are actually malicious predatory swine seems an odd idea. But then readers have long had to employ moral blinkers when approaching Wodehouse especially with regard to his dodgy wartime activities.

Adaptors Robert and David Goodale devise an elegant solution for the technical obstacles to bringing Wodehouse to the stage. As Bertie Wooster narrates the original stories the concept is that he has decided to write and perform (with an assist from his trusty butler Jeeves) in a play about his own misadventures. In the novels Jeeves is almost omnipotent so on-stage he magically constructs Alice Power’s ingenious set as the play progresses.

It is easier to summarise Proust than the convoluted plots of Wodehouse but Bertie’s ongoing efforts to steer clear of matrimony and stay in the good books of his maiden aunt are made more complex by the need to pinch a cow creamer and recover a notebook containing scandalous opinions about the host of a party.

Director Sean Foley emphasises the ‘nonsense’ part of the title- this is a show in which little is taken seriously. Foley mercilessly spoofs sombre theatrical productions with Bertie constantly remarking on how easy he finds this acting lark and opining that the obvious paper flames in the fire are giving the audience good value for money.

Foley drags in comic elements from all over the place including a glorious slow-mo slapstick scene in a shop. The technical aspects – characters changing costumes and appearing back on stage at almost impossible speed are all delivered with a casual expertise.

The play boasts an excellent comic performance from James Lance as Bertie. Chin tucked close to his chest, shoulders slightly stooped and a gormless smile he is very much the upper class twit. Yet you can’t despise Bertie as Lance brings a level of almost child-like innocence particularly standing stunned by the unexpected success of his play or the wisdom of Jeeves.

If Jeeves had been used sparingly as in the novels then the actor would have been reduced to a secondary role. To ensure parity, Math Sams (who provides cover for an indisposed John Gordon Sinclair as Jeeves) also takes on additional roles whilst in the character of Jeeves.

This approach does not work well; there is no trace of Jeeves’s dignified personality in any of the other roles enacted so we are always aware that it is Math Sams, the actor, not Jeeves the character,who is in drag. The play moves away from Wodehouse towards a more simple farce.

Jeeves and Wooster impressively manages to resolve some but not all of the technical problems involved in bringing a much-loved classic to the stage and whilst it is not perfect it is far from being nonsense.

Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense is at the Lowry until 8 November.