For the first 15 minutes of this play based on PG Wodehouse’s beloved characters Jeeves and Wooster, I was worried it wouldn’t work. Stephen Mangan seemed to hamming up the character of Bertie Wooster, too much and I envisioned this would result in a slapstick disaster. However, just as in the books, everything came through in the end, in part helped by a terrific performance from Jeeves (Matthew MacFayden).
In what turned out to be a genius move, the playwriters (Robert and David Goodale), made this a play within the play. This not only made the show more interesting than a straight rendition of the tale, but also meant extra points of humour could be added through the exertions of Jeeves, Wooster and Seppings the butler (Mark Hadfield) to make a realistic play. The moments that got the heartiest laughs from the audience were those little self-aware moments. For instance, when an obviously fake dog was used to attack characters and when Seppings was required to stand on a stool once he realised he wasn’t quite meeting Wooster’s narrative description of the villain as 9 feet tall.
The plot was as convoluted and far-fetched as you would expect for a play based on Wodehouse books. The basic premise was that the luckless Wooster had to go visit Totleigh Towers to repair the engagement between his newt-loving friend and the ghastly Madeline Bassett, to avoid him having to marry said ghastly girl. Wooster’s aunt also tasks him with stealing a silver cow creamer owned by the damsel’s alarming father, who once fined Wooster for stealing a policeman’s helmet on Boat Race Day. Of course there are further complications involving a book of insults, a stolen policeman’s helmet and Madeline’s cousin Stiffy, who desires to marry a vicar. All this was acted out by Mangan, MacFayden and Hadfield, which just added to the fun.
MacFayden really rescued the show from the first 15 minutes and used the limited cast number to really show off the excellent range of his acting. He mastered the deadpan tones and the art of the raised eyebrow perfectly to pull off Jeeves, but I must admit a certain fondness for his turn as Stiffy. The ability to play the opposite gender, in however slapstick a manner, is a pretty good measure of someone’s talent.
MacFayden, Mangan and Hadfield are extending their performances in these key roles until the April 5th 2014 – I highly recommend getting down to the Duke of York Theatre, right away.