Review: Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense, Duke of York’s

“Do what to a what?”

The whole Jeeves and Wooster thing has passed me by in life – I’ve never seen the TV show or read PG Wodehouse’s stories, nor ever felt the need to catch up. But I do like me some Matthew Macfadyen and so the lure of seeing him onstage – after an absence of three years – meant that a trip to the unwieldly titled Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense was in order. The play was adapted by Robert and David Goodale and is directed by Sean Foley, who brings a strenuous theatricality to the whole affair.

The conceit sees Stephen Mangan’s toff Wooster intending to put on a one-man show but soon finding that he needs the assistance of his trusty manservant Jeeves, played by Macfadyen, who helps him relay the tales of Wooster’s adventures by stage-managing the whole affair and portraying any number of supporting players. Thus we get a dizzying whirl of characters, locations and scenarios all conjured from Jeeves’ resourcefulness but not content with the The 39 Steps-style carousing, there’s possibly the hugest amount of arch nudge-nudge-wink-wink business ever seen on a London stage. 

Some may really appreciate it, but I found it to be most alienating. Drama school buddies of old, Macfadyen and Mangan work hard but are constantly fighting a losing battle against Foley’s sustained emphasis on the farce of the piece, which turns the tone into something perilously close to smug. And though you’d be hard-pressed to tell from the title, or the publicity, this is actually a three-man show – Mark Hadfield’s ageing butler Seppings is a frequently scene-stealing performance who also multi-roles his way through the story, making a mockery of his unheralded presence in the play. 

My relationship with farce has always been difficult but it isn’t clear-cut, a lot of farcing about leaves me cold but I loved Noises Off and the soon-to-be-West-End-bound The Duck House. But whatever magic ingredient they had - I suspect it is the charming heart at their very centre – it is sorely missing here and no amount of arched eyebrows can convince me otherwise.

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 8th March

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