By BRUCE DENNILL
Jeeves & Wooster In Perfect Nonsense / Directed by Steven Stead / Studio at Montecasino Theatre
So there are grown men dressing in women’s clothing, presenting material that’s enjoyed cult popularity for decades. And downstairs, Rocky Horror Show is playing…
Jeeves & Wooster In Perfect Nonsense is all about the magic of the theatre. The narrative – a story based on bits of several PG Wodehouse books – is structured as a play, with the opening sequence featuring charming fop Bertie Wooster (Jonathan Roxmouth, to the manor born, as it were) explaining, directly to the audience, that he and his gentleman’s personal gentleman Jeeves (Graham Hopkins, getting a two-hour physical workout every night) will be presenting a dramatic re-enactment of an incident in which he was caught up that involved a small silver cow and a giant with a monocle. Well, that’s paraphrasing, but it all happens.
And so it is. Fortunately, Jeeves has had advance warning, so allowance for Wooster’s cluelessness has been made.
The Studio’s tiny stage is given depth and complexity by some remarkable creations by designer Greg King, who’s come up with fireplaces that become cupboards, chairs that become cars and much more besides. All these props are expertly manipulated by Hopkins and Robert Fridjhon, who stars as both Wooster’s Aunt Dahlia and her butler Seppings, conscripted by Jeeves to fill in the gaps where even his considerable capabilities are not enough to keep Wooster on the straight and narrow.
The plot is as intricate as the wordplay that’s so thrilling to read on the Wodehouse page and so difficult to master for an actor, especially when he’s playing a number of different characters, occasionally at the same time (take a bow costume designer Neil Stuart-Harris, whose work makes this possible).
Wooster’s an uncomplicated enough bloke – simple, some might say – but his friends and family are adept at making situations more complex than they need to be, strictly speaking, which allows the young dandy to become the protagonist in a number of entertaining threads.
There is, at the request of Aunt Dahlia (Fridjhon) the acquisition of a silver cow creamer – perhaps the most ridiculous object ever on which to base a quest – to take care of, in spite of the contrary notions of Sir Watkyn Bassett (Hopkins) and Sir Roderick Spode (Fridjhon); the relationship of good friends Gussie Fink-Nottle (Hopkins) and Madeleine Bassett (Hopkins, again) to save; and the blackmail of Miss “Stiffy” Bing (still Hopkins) to counter. In addition, Wooster is framed for the theft of a policemen’s (Fridjohn) helmet.
Given the plethora of characters Hopkins and Fridjhon are expected to embody, it might appear that Roxmouth gets off lightly, but his is an intricate task as he play Wooster as narrator, as a character in the play within a play and as his wide-eyed self, enjoying the captivating thrill of great theatre happening before his eyes (as it happens before the audience’s).
Jeeves & Wooster In Perfect Nonsense is slick, sophisticated poppycock and balderdash that must exhaust the cast (and stage manager Bronwyn Leigh Gottwald, who’s pulling strings and much more besides just out of sight) each time they perform it. The audience certainly benefits from their labours, however, with both mind and body well exercised by the end of the show (the latter by the consistent giggling and occasional belly laughs).