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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Duke of York's


  Matthew Macfadyen and Stephan Mangan/ Ph: Uli Weber

Lame-brained toffs in (very minor) trouble and wily servants getting them out of it – that’s the essential joke around which PG Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster stories blithely dally. If you’re like me, it may elicit a small sigh, as you contemplate a modern Britain in which the over-privileged and expensively educated get the rest of us into quite major trouble and then cheerfully continue to enjoy their insulated lives while those with fewer advantages reap the results. However, it is necessary to put such real-world concerns aside if you are to enjoy entering the daffy fantasyland of Perfect Nonsense. Adapted from Wodehouse’s 1938 novel "The Code of the Woosters" by the Goodale Brothers and directed by Sean Foley, noted for his skill at nimble physical comedy, it is a place of supreme inconsequentiality. Expect anything about it to matter a jot, and you’ll be disappointed; its pleasures lie solely in Wodehouse’s delicate and droll turn of phrase, and in the execution, which is as slick as Jeeves’ dazzlingly brilliantined hair.
A strong double act as the hapless Bertie Wooster and his ingenious, poker-faced valet Jeeves is, of course, essential; and Perfect Nonsense has an enormously marketable one in Stephan Mangan and Matthew Macfadyen. Unfortunately, a serious bout of pneumonia meant that Mangan took sick leave early in the production’s run and, despite attempting to return to his role, was off again when I made my third attempt to see it. So while I cannot comment on his performance or his onstage chemistry with Macfadyen, I can reveal that he has an excellent understudy in Edward Hancock. If he doesn’t have Mangan’s toothily horsey aspect, which suggests itself as perfect for portraying the gormless Bertie, Hancock has his own brand of blinking, benign silliness, as well as an essential sweetness that made me much less inclined to give him a good slap than I feared I might be.
Foley and the authors have given the show a play-within-a-play framing device, as Bertie, discovered (and startled to be so) relaxing in a wing-back chair, relates to us the story of a disastrous weekend he spent at Totleigh Towers, the country seat of one Sir Watkyn Bassett. Bassett has incurred the wrath of Bertie’s formidable Aunt Dahlia by acquiring a silver cow-shaped milk jug on which she had her heart set – and she dispatches her nephew to retrieve the object. What’s more, the engagement of Bertie’s best pal, the newt-fancying Gussie Fink-Nottle, to Bassett’s drippy daughter Madeleine is in peril. Can Bertie save the day? Not a chance – but naturally, the faithful Jeeves is at his side to set all to rights.
Macfadyen makes a wonderfully dry Jeeves, with his deft efficiency, air of silent disapproval and expressive eyebrows. Alongside Mark Hadfield as Seppings, Aunt Dahlia’s butler, he doubles – and sometimes drags – up in an array of roles demanding lightning costume changes, as well as sliding in scenery and even peddling a static bicycle that powers the stage’s revolve. It’s all very elegantly done, from Jeeves grabbing a lampshade as a hat to top off his portrayal of Madeleine, to Seppings as a frothing, seven-foot-tall member of the English Fascist organisation “The Black Shorts” standing atop a table clad in an absurdly long raincoat. Who cares? Absolutely nobody – but if this sort of harmless shenanigans is your cup of tea, then the show is pretty much brewed to perfection.


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