Long before Jeeves was the go-to moniker for British-as-anything valets and the like, there was Jeeves (Joseph Chance) the British-as-anything valet and Wooster (Matthew Carter), the gadabout rogue, wreaking havoc on the early 20th century and later UK television audiences.
Based on the series by P. G. Wodehouse and revived in decades past by Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, the eponymous pair have staged a short run of antics and eccentricities at the Sydney Opera House, ably accompanied by the third of a three-man act, the Butler Seppings (Robert Goodale).
Anyone none-too-familiar with the source material or distinct style may be a little nonplussed by the unabashed, old-timey, quintessentially British humour, while adherents to similarly light-hearted fanfare and the series itself will get no end of nostalgia from seeing some of the pair’s greatest hits play out on stage.
Loosely following an adventure in the life of the gentleman and the ‘gentleman’s personal gentleman,’ Wooster and Jeeves respectively flit about the stage trying to avert disaster in a series of sketches. A pairing renowned for their spitting banter, its strangely the slapstick, physical humour that resonates best; the companions trying to catch an elusive object or patiently waiting in silence for a train to pass proving amongst the most uproarious segments of the night.
It’s Goodale that really excels here, aided in no small part by Chance. Proffered less lines than his titular counterparts, Goodale’s silent, heavily-poised interjections in the goings-on prove delighting, as does the speedy character changes, accomplished to much better effect in the latter part of the play. A set-piece involving a bed and adjoining window too contribute to some of the best gags, none less so than Chance hastily retreating from underneath the prop when doubling as different characters, the occasionally clumsy extraction/retraction of the bed only mildly distracting.
The set also a star of the show – a recurring gag centred on the mantelpiece’s revolving paintings and a cold-open on Wooster in an old-fashioned tub, replete with rubber ducky, aid the players greatly. Their delivery stretching the amiability of the humour in parts, the long chasms of dialogue, oft-overstated to the nth degree, and featuring no small end of boundless expressions as if the players were trying to reach out to a much larger theatre, are trying at times.
Redeemed to an extent in the second half when they didn’t have to explain too much about their characters, here the trio much more capably dive into the show’s unmistakeable brand of humour – too much more agreeable to playing off the audience directly, an addition to the show both appropriate in the medium-sized setting and one of the more endearing aspects of the production.
Certainly for fans but also some fun for the uninitiated, Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense is an irreverent, very, very British night of laughs.
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense
Sydney Opera House
23-28 August 2016