Reviews West End & Central Published 25 April 2014

Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense

Duke of York's Theatre ⋄ booking until 20th September 2014

Wooster, recoded.

Nathan Brooker

Having won this year’s Olivier award for Best New Comedy, Perfect Nonsense has had its run extended and recast with Robert Webb and Mark Heap replacing Stephen Mangan and Matthew Macfadyen.

The production is something of a labour of love for the Goodale brothers – who have penned (and starred in) versions of the play at various times and in various regional theatres for the past 25 years. Essentially, Wooster (Robert Webb) is staging one of his anecdotes. After a particularly riotous spinning of the yarn at his club some nights previously, Bertie has been persuaded to put the thing on the stage. And so, with Woosterian pluck – and with the help of his trusty valet, Jeeves, and his Aunt Agatha’s doddering butler, Seppings – the trio stage the story, with Wooster as himself and everyone else played by either Jeeves (Mark Heap) or Seppings (Mark Hadfield).

It’s a neat enough premise and with its play-within-a-play setup and self-consciously shoe-string set, sound and lighting, it revels in its meta-jokes about how there’s not enough money in theatre to put on a decent play anymore; certainly not one with all the bells, whistles and the requisite amount of cast members anyway. It’s cheap, it knows it, and it squeezes tons of laughs out of it. In fact, there’s a pack-up-and-go aspect to Alice Power’s shrewd set design that makes it feel as though the production were always destined to tour the provinces – which is what it will do come mid-September, albeit slightly later than initially planned.

Robert Webb is note perfect as the posho-twit Bertie Wooster. It’s a big performance, all grins and guffaws, but he keeps the reins on Bertie with expert precision. And it’s a tall order, not least because he is on stage 100 per cent of the time, but also because Webb successfully makes Wodehouse’s former public schoolboy – a reviled character in Cameron’s Britain – an endearing idiot and not a prick. It is thin ice on which to skate, but Webb manages it. He’s fantastic, actually, as good as Hugh Laurie, who surely is the benchmark to which all Woosters everywhere must aspire.

Mark Heap is similarly impressive as Jeeves. He manages to exude the character’s calmness, his sense of being forever in the eye of the storm, surrounded constantly by the swirling madness of a Woosterian scheme. His costume changes are particularly impressive, as are his portrayals of the hapless newt-fancier Gussie Fink-Nottle and Stiffy Byng, though perhaps these roles – funny though they are – have more ‘Mark Heap’ about them than Jeeves, who is technically their devisor. Still you pay for Mark Heap, you want to see Mark Heap, I suppose.

Only with Mark Hadfield’s Seppings do things falter a tad. Essentially, Seppings is played broader than the other two, with a good deal of mugging, strutting and posing thrown in for good measure – all fitting ingredients of a good farce – but for my money he nudges it too far. It’s as if he doesn’t quite have the faith in the material that the other two do. It’s a small point though and there’s still much to love about this production.

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Nathan Brooker

Nathan is a freelance journalist at the Financial Times and a freelance researcher for BBC Films. In his spare time he likes watching television programmes made by Armando Iannucci, thinking really hard about things and lying to himself and everyone close to him about liking apricot jam. He lives in London.

Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense Show Info


Directed by Sean Foley

Written by The Goodale Brothers

Cast includes Mark Heap, Robert Webb, Mark Hadfield

Link http://www.jeevesandwoosterplay.com/

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