Thursday, September 15, 2016

REVIEW: Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense

HKAPA Drama Theatre, Wednesday September 14

My introduction to the works of P.G. Wodehouse came in the form of the musical By Jeeves by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Alan Ayckbourn. Later on, I had the chance to see the comedy series Jeeves and Wooster that starred Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie in YouTube. A genial but ditzy gentleman with an improbably intelligent and efficient valet seems to resonate well as an antidote to my Disneyesque childhood.

Last December in London, I had the dilemma of having to choose between this play, Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense or Jessica Swale’s Nell Gwyn. Nell Gwyn won but I am so glad that Jeeves & Wooster have come to Hong Kong. Winner of Best New Comedy at London’s 2014 Olivier Awards, Jeeves & Wooster was pure silliness that managed to keep what Robert McCrum identified as Wodehouse’s combination of "high farce with the inverted poetry of his mature comic style". Indeed do not expect the play to have any depth of meaning; but instead, it is filled with Wodehouse’s dry metaphors such as to be reminded that one of the characters had "the sort of eye that could open an oyster at 60 paces".

Matthew Carter (Wooster) and Joseph Chance (Jeeves)
The premise of the play was that Wooster, played by Matthew Carter with winning toothiness, is recounting what happened in Totleigh Towers, when he was tasked to steal a cow-shaped silver jug. The problem was that Wooster has only two actors to play all the other characters! This led to a continuous parody of theatrical mishaps and madcaps, with sound effect gags, and quick set and costume changes. Robert Goodale, the other half of Goodale Brothers who adapted and wrote this comedy, played fellow valet Seppings. With physical bravura, Seppings switched from the daunting Aunt Dahlia to the imposing Roderick Spode, who came fortified with a Hitlerian moustache. In the style of Patrick Barlow’s The 39 Steps and Ben-Hur, the play got to a point when the number of actors required onstage exceeded the number of actual actors available. The boil-over came when the imperturbable Jeeves, played by Joseph Chance, was obligated to simultaneously play an overbearing old bully, Sir Watkyn Bassett, and the unmistakably womanly Stiffy Byng. Having said that, I feel that the pace of the play was a tad slow; and I can’t help but feel that there can be a bit more chemistry between the actors.

While the play was utter nonsense, it was nonsense at its hilarious best. The audience chuckled constantly. It was the perfect mid-week cure to my busy week.