I realize there’s not much of a point in reviewing Jeeves and Wooster. It opened in November, and based on the lack of discounting of the last two months, it’s clearly found an appreciative audience. With two television actors (Stephen Mangan and Matthew Macfadyen) and the promise of light comedy, well, it must have been a producer’s fantasy booking. Given that it’s extended until September (no idea who’s in the lead roles after April), it’s really pushing the right buttons – to call the audience “appreciative” would be understating their enthusiasm.
Anyway, I didn’t go because of the TV actors, I went because the person who’d introduced me to P.G. Wodehouse invited me. This meant tickets bought at his price range (60 quid, ouch!) and preferred location (in the stalls but on the side). This was all fairly painful for me, but, well, having anybody outside of my group of hardcore theater people inviting me out is pretty rare, so I wanted to take advantage of this. And I was genuinely curious about how these funny books could be turned into an equally funny play; so much of the laughs come from snickering at the narrator (Wooster), who doesn’t seem to realize how pompous and stupid he is – but also admiring how clever the “lesser” of the two, Jeeves (the butler), is. It sounded like a set up that would be fraught – I mean, it could just so easily become plain old mean. And, really, the tone of the novels is not in any way mean – they are kind and jolly and friendly (Wooster coming through).
The approach this show went for, as it turns out, was to not have Wooster be a character in a play, but to have him be (as it were) a real person … someone addressing the audience and telling them (er, us) things. This breaking down of the fourth was was very effective in increasing Wooster’s believability as an actual person, and thus made him much less of an object of mockery than might have been. The curtain goes up, and there’s Bertie Wooster, quite surprised to see us. Then he starts rambling about how he has such interesting things happen to him that a friend of his has suggested that he do it as a play – so here he is! However, he doesn’t seem to have much prepared, certainly not any scenery, and hardly any actors, well, except for his butler, good old Jeeves, who dutifully comes on stage when called. As Bertie continues to ramble on about his great idea of being in a show, Wooster slowly brings out one bit of set after another, a gag that runs throughout the play but one which nicely illustrates the core elements of the Jeeves and Wooster relationship – Wooster is stupid, Jeeves gets things done and doesn’t make a fuss. Rightfully, with all of Jeeves’ stagehanding shenanigans, the climax probably should have been a helicopter descending from the ceiling a la Miss Saigon (with Jeeves flying it), but the show doesn’t take it that far – although nearly.
As it stands, the entirely of the show is done with three actors – including a second butler – and every joke gets built up and redone over and over again until it builds up a comic hysteria. The audience was lapping it up, too, which puzzled me a bit as while some of the things were clever, they weren’t particularly “wow” to me. But it was what they wanted, and they laughed and laughed.
Me, I giggled a bit. I liked the cow creamer. I thought Wodehouse did it better. It was, I’ll concede amusing, but there is no way on God’s green earth this play was worth what we payed for it. Oh well, I suppose if you only go out once or twice a year, perhaps a few giggles and a chance to feel modestly literary is all that it takes.
(This review is for a performance of Jeeves and Wooster that took place on Friday, January 17, 2014. It is booking until September although casting will change some time around April.)