15 August 2022
PG Wodehouse was a one-off; his writings, particularly those featuring Bertie Wooster and his manservant Jeeves, are some of the daftest in all literature. Stage plays featuring the two are few and far between so this wonderfully original script by David and Robert Goodale, which was first staged in 2013, has become enormously popular.
Bertie Wooster is recounting a story to the audience and decides it would work better to act it out, but he needs help; Jeeves is on hand to play some of the parts and change the set as is Seppings, the butler to Bertie’s Aunt Dahlia. And so the fun starts as they create the action and characters who form part of Wooster’s milieu.
I will start by saying I cannot remember when I have laughed so much in a theatre. The invention of the script, the ludicrous story, a director on fire and a sublime cast make this an unforgettable production.
Presented on a virtually bare stage the set is built by the cast who change it as the action moves from location to location; an abundance of props are used – often to hysterical effect – costumes fly on and off and the ridiculous story line still manages to make some sense.
This is one of those plays that needs to hit the ground running; it is frantic and goes like an express train. There is little let up for the cast who take the final curtain exhausted – I cannot praise them enough.
As Wooster, Joshua Wichard avoids the completely ‘silly ass’ version of his character and gives us a warm, cheeky, knowing and instantly likeable and engaging performance. Bertie addresses the audience throughout and Wichard is brilliant at this: I couldn’t help thinking that there were, at times, more than a hint of Rowan Atkinson in his performance.
Dominic McChesney is an actor of supreme versatility and as Jeeves he is the epitomy of decorum and precision, but when he unleashes his Sir Watkyn Bassett, his Gussie Fink-Nottle and his Stiffy Byng on the audience, then you know you are also witnessing a comic genius. McChesney has impeccable timing and rich vocal variety and slips between seductive Stiffy and demonic Watkyn with utter ease.
Likewise Jeremy Todd, as Seppings, takes on Aunt Dahlia, the impossibly tall Roderick Spode and the agonisingly slow Butterfield (in a tribute to a creation by Julie Walters in a Victoria Wood sketch); he executes them all in the most joyfully skilful way. There is one scene where Todd provides the sound and visual effects as Wooster and Jeeves go on a car journey – it is belly-achingly funny and at that point I thought I might implode.
You won’t see a better ensemble at work. Any weak link or shortcomings in the cast will be fully exposed, there is nowhere to hide, but thanks to the masterful direction of Max Bex Roberts, there is no cause for concern. Roberts takes the bull by the horns and propels the action at full tilt, tempting the actors to push the boundaries of comedy; where farce and pantomime elements abound. It reaps rewards as the audience are taken into a world of hilarity and utter joy.
I must mention the clever use of set and props to formulate this ‘theatrical’ world as well as the inventive costuming which are all handled with aplomb.
I may not see a production of this play for some time to come in order to preserve the experience of seeing this one. This is a wonderful family show, with nothing to cause offence; it is also a classy lesson in comedy performance – it won’t be easy to find one better.
We all need laughter, it is a wonderful medicine. I urge you to go and see this brilliant production cos you will laugh your socks off! If you do, cow-creamers, Aberdeen Terriers and lampshades will never seem quite the same to you again!
CAST & CREATIVES
BERTIE WOOSTER – JOSHUA WICHARD
JEEVES – DOMINIC MCCHESNEY
SEPPINGS – JEREMY TODD
WRITERS – THE GOODALE BROTHERS
DIRECTOR – MAX BEX ROBERTS
DESIGN – ANDREW BECKETT
LIGHTING & SOUND OPERATION & DESIGN – JOE UNDERWOOD
COSTUME SUPERVISOR – JANET HUCKLE
PHOTOGRAPHY – ALASDAIR EVANS
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR – PAUL TAYLOR-MILLS
SEASON PRODUCER – CLAIRE EVANS