Duke of York’s Theatre.
Wodehouse’s wit and a dazzling new cast make this a perfect entertainment.
Fresh from its triumphant win as Best New Comedy at the Olivier Awards, ‘‘Perfect Nonsense’’ offers three actors the chance to play some of the choicest comic roles you’ll find anywhere on stage.
Thankfully, Mark Heap and Robert Webb, who now join the show as Jeeves and Wooster, take full advantage of the opportunity. Together with Mark Hadfield, they all turn in an evening full of invention, wit and brilliant characterisation that has to be one of the best and most absurd nights out in London.
The complex plot twists, and the exchanges between Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves are all there in ‘‘The Code of the Woosters’’, the PG Wodehouse novel the play is based on.
But in Robert and David Goodale’s splendid adaptation, Bertie decides he’ll act out the whole story for our amusement. After all, as he observes, he’s seen actors at work and wonders how hard can it be?
He’s guided, as ever, by the calm wisdom of Jeeves, who turns out to have handy sidelines as a set builder and multi-tasking actor. This latter skill adds a whole new layer to the relationship between the pair. Who, indeed, could have imagined Jeeves daintily dressed as lisping Madeline Bassett, looming over Bertie on the verge of a stolen kiss?
Robert Webb steps superbly into the role of Wooster, and has control of proceedings from his opening line. We know we’re in good hands, and he manages his audience with the easy bonhomie that makes hapless Bertie such a charmer.
Although Mark Heap’s TV career has seen him specialise in playing outsiders whose neuroses simmer close to the surface, his Jeeves is as level-headed and assured as anyone could wish. Just the man, in fact, to remind us in times of doubt that trousers really ‘‘do’’ matter.
But it’s with myopic, excitable newt-enthusiast Gussie Fink-Nottle that Heap’s comic gifts are unleashed. His squirming attempts to retrieve a notebook hidden somewhere within Stephanie Byng’s undergarments simply defy description. And the spirited quarrel between Sir Watkyn Bassett
and his niece, both played simultaneously by Heap, bring the biggest cheer of the night.
Mark Hadfield continues to shine as Aunt Dahlia’s wheezy, obliging butler Seppings, just as he did with the previous cast, playing everyone from the terrifying Aunt Dahlia to dictator-in-waiting Sir Roderick Spode.
Director Sean Foley’s show is packed with clever ideas, from the slow-motion disaster in the antique shop, to the whole conceit of Alice Power’s set that gradually gets bolted together as the show progresses.
If you’re looking for a jolly evening’s entertainment – and who isn’t – then Wooster, Jeeves and Seppings are the chaps to rely on.
First published 23 April 2014, whatsonstage.com