Interview by Graham Chalmers
In an era when bankers are a dirty word and Britain appears to be dominated by old Etonians, you might assume a new touring production of Jeeves and Wooster would be awash in timely satire.
Nothing of the sort, says one of the stars of the hit show which comes to Harrogate Theatre next month.
Actor Jason Thorpe, who plays the ultimate butler, says Jeeves and Wooster - Perfect Nonsense is more a case of a fun night out than biting satire.
“Poking fun at the elite is the natural way in the UK but this isn’t a slice of real life, it’s a comedy about the absurdities of life. All comedy is based on situations which go awry.”
Few literary creations have featured more situations going awry than PG Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster stories.
As adapted by David and Robert Goodale from Wodehouse’s 1938 novel The Code of the Woosters, this entertaining farce has already been a huge hit in the West End, winning the 2014 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy.
When I talk to Jason on the phone in London in December, he’s just come back from an exercise run and is starting to wade through his lines in preparation for the start of rehearsals with his co-star Robert Webb who plays upper class twit Bertie Wooster and Christopher Ryan who plays fellow manservant Seppings, among other roles.
“If a script is well written it’s usually easier to grapple with but you can’t paraphrase Wodehouse. His use of language is so good, so precise.”
Thorpe is taking on a role originally played in London by the star of Gregory’s Girl, John Gordon Sinclair. A Scotsman.
He laughs. “He did a really good job considering he was playing the ultimate Englishman!”
Born in Leicester, Thorpe’s wasn’t an easy route to acting success. With no money-bags parents to pay for drama school in the big city, he took a detour to Middlesex University where he did a degree in performing arts.
“When I was seven, I found I could speak loudly at school productions without embarrassment or nerves. Then I found out you got praised for doing it, too.”
Jason remembers first meeting co-star Robert Webb, he of Peep Show and Mitchell and Webb fame, at the National Student Drama Festival where, crucially, he also, acquired an agent.
Even so, he admits to being a little apprehensive before meeting up again, especially with The Young Ones’ star Christopher Ryan also being in this small but talented cast directed by Sean Foley.
“I was a bit nervous at the first cast photo-shoot, especially being with two icons of British comedy. But they are lovely people, which is just as well. We’re touring for five months together and you have to get on.”
The tour sounds a bit of a wheeze but acting is not all laughs. Like many actors I’ve spoken to, Jason feels lucky to be working regularly in what is a fiercely competitive and unpredictable business.
Still, it could be worse, he could be in Russia where he once studied at the world-famous GITIS Academy as part of an exchange programme at Middlesex University.
“It’s an amazing drama school but it’s ultra orthodox. Actors there would laugh when I told them we usually rehearsed here for no more than two or three weeks. They rehearse plays for a year and a half! They think the British are a nation of dilettantes!”
Jeeves and Wooster – Perfect Nonsense will run for nearly a week at Harrogate Theatre before it continues its journey round the country.
It will give Jason the chance to meet up with a couple of friends who live in Harrogate and, perhaps, return to the Blues Bar where he’s enjoyed what he describes as “cracking nights” in the past.
Before I sign off he gives me an illustration of how tough the acting business can be with an anecdote about the actor who plays Barry Scott in the TV advert for turbo-powered cleaning product Cillit Bang.
Then, the cheeky blighter, who’s playing a man who’s always in control of every situation, swears me to secrecy.