Skip to content

Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense

by on 3 September 2022


Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense

by P.G. Wodehouse, adapted by David and Robert Goodale

Progress Company at Progress Theatre, Reading until 10th September

Review by Sam Martin

Having not seen any Wodehouse before (forgive me!) I was intrigued, but also a little apprehensive as I approached Progress Theatre to watch Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense.  Consulting with my admittedly more cultured friends, I knew a slither of what to expect; anticipating that a show with ‘nonsense’ in the title and a promise of layered and excessive multi-roleing would serve for a fun (but chaotic) evening of entertainment. 

The production started well with Dan Clarke confidently in the role of Wooster and guiding us through the plot with skilled narration.  At times his portrayal of Bertie Wooster’s amazement at the make-shift scenery was a little overcooked and gave the character perhaps too much simplicity, yet Clarke eased into the show and became a stable narrator figure playing well on the farcical moments, bringing the audience in on the façade with ease.  Clarke remained the anchor of the piece, holding the plot together dexterously – even when clearly struggling to change costume quickly just off stage!

Accompanying Clarke were Owen Goode in the role of Jeeves and Jeremy Radburn in the role of Seppings, and neither disappointed with their complex, quick-witted and clearly well practiced performances.  The pacy nature of the play, which sped along to some dizzying changes and transformations, even for the audience, meant that both were up against a huge feat to embody each of the characters and – at some particularly strange but wonderful moments – even switch so quickly as to have a conversation with themselves!  I enjoyed Goode’s calm and purposeful portrayal of Jeeves, dutifully fulfilling the whims and wants of Bertie.  His nonchalant attitude as the various settings were uncovering, in juxtaposition with Clarke’s excitement as Bertie discovered the ‘world’ of his play was both entertaining and teasing, for the real surprise was in the skill of the valet in depicting the various characters in this story within a story.  Although there were a few stumbled moments, Goode was impressive navigating a challenging role.

Completing the trio of actors in this nonsensical narrative was Jeremy Radburn who arguably demonstrated the biggest range and evoked some of the biggest laughs of the evening.   The portrayal of Seppings to Butterfield could have proved comparable and confusing but Radburn masterfully crafted pitch perfect characterisation that delighted the audience.  His Aunt Dahlia was invigorating – especially anticipating the changing positions of her wig! – and Spode was positively intimidating despite the perhaps overused dramatic music that accompanied each of his entrances.   Radburn gave a commanding and highly enjoyable performance throughout with great comic timing and intuition.

The performances were a whirlwind of energy that pulled skilfully on the response of the audience and played the exaggerated genre well.   There were, at times, moments of missed opportunity with the dialogue with a handful of notably humorous lines thrown away.   This felt like an oversight of the direction rather than a mishap of the actors, but with so many gags throughout the script it would be inevitable that some moments are overlooked or simply not read with the right tone or emphasis in those early stages of rehearsal.   Although the vocal direction demanded much of the actors – lines were delivered at an incredible speed in some pivotal moments and the full and complex use of words to portray the story was delivered with clarity, the moments that stayed with me after the show were those where the timing of physical comedy shone through.   A gag with the follow-spot tickled me for minutes after, as did the ludicrous portrayal of the elements outside Jeeves and Wooster’s car journey (and yes, the level crossing prop was impressive!) Simple moments that may not have been explicit in the text brought the chaos and absurdity of the situation alive and my personal favourite was Bertie’s stupidity and failure to answer Jeeves knocking on the door … something you have to watch to truly appreciate.

As a small-scale production, the whole performance came together nicely with the set and lighting.  Although Bertie delights in the set Jeeves has created, there was something a bit too ‘stagey’ about it and maybe being a little more obviously make-shift would have served for bigger laughs and more moments of chaotic failures.

Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense, ably directed by Laura Mills, is a thoroughly enjoyable watch that I would recommend to any comedy or farce fan.

Sam Martin, September 2022

Images by Amy Mitt

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: