Review: Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense, a new play from the works of PG Wodehouse by the Goodale Brothers at Chichester Festival Theatre

There have been many attempts to translate the Jeeves and Wooster stories from the printed word to the stage or screen.

Robert Web. Photo by Uli Weber
Robert Web. Photo by Uli Weber

Success has been variable.

The early 1990s television series starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry was a triumph - but too many interpretations have failed because they have reduced Bertie Wooster to an upper class period twit.

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Avid fans of the books will know nothing could be further from the truth. While he is swept along as a gauche and helpless victim the sheer quality of his descriptive prose - the novels are all written by him in the first person - single him out as someone far more intellectual.

It is that contrast which gives the books their real comic warmth.

So Perfect Nonsense - based on perhaps Bertie’s most famous escapades of all from the 1938 Code of the Woosters - is a masterpiece.

By empowering Wooster and Jeeves to put on a play of their encounters with dictator Spode and the irrepressible Aunt Dahlia, succulent chunks of the original narrative are served up a la the best butler in town.

This complex adaptation further scores because, with a cast of three playing the parts of an entire country house gathering, it amplifies the sense of farce to side-splitting proportions.

If Morecambe and Wise at their peak had ever decided to put on a Wodehouse production as a ‘play what Ernie wrote’ it might have looked something like this.

It is frantic - as a breakneck speed plot is played out in the midst of constant role swapping and scene changing mayhem.

Robert Webb’s Bertie Wooster is particularly beguiling because he does not condemn his alter ego to that of privileged fool but captures all the enduring warmth and bemused wisdom of our hero.

Jason Thorpe as Jeeves dazzles as he slips from one role to the next; while Christopher Ryan skips nimbly between all other parts with all the sardonic good humour of the 1930s retainer he is supposed to represent.

It’s called Perfect Nonsense. But that’s nonsense. It’s perfect.