Review: Perfect laughter at brilliant Jeeves & Wooster show

Jason Thorpe as Jeeves, Robert Webb as Bertie Wooster and Christopher Ryan as Seppings in  Jeeves and Wooster - Perfect Nonsense. (Picture by Hugo Glendinning)
Jason Thorpe as Jeeves, Robert Webb as Bertie Wooster and Christopher Ryan as Seppings in Jeeves and Wooster - Perfect Nonsense. (Picture by Hugo Glendinning)

By Graham Chalmers

What an absolute bunch of idiots!

Mssrs Robert Webb, Jason Thorpe and Christopher Ryan look to be having a ball playing the fool all the time playing, well, a bunch of fools.

And so is the audience at Harrogate Theatre.

That shouldn’t be a surprise bearing in mind this rip-roaringly funny show has already been a big West End hit. What’s more surprising is precisely how silly it is.

The original book of Perfect Nonsense by PG Wodehouse is a case of clever writing about daft people, the admirably composed valet Jeeves aside, of course.

But this version’s knowing play within a play approach posits the incompetent Bertie Wooster (Robert Webb) as the central character in his own PG Wodehouse production - aided by the always well-informed Jeeves (Jason Thorpe) and skittish manservant Seppings (Christopher Ryan, he of The Young Ones fame).

Writers the Goodale brothers mostly draw on Wodehouse’s 1938 novel The Code of the Woosters for the script of this award-winning production.

Although some linguistic gems are plucked from that literary treasure trove, such as Wooster’s description of one chap as having “the sort of eye that could open an oyster at 60 paces”, this is a show built ultimately on physicality.

All in all, it must be an exhausting business for the cast, though it doesn‘t come across that way in this breathless production.

While the bug-eyed Webb has the benefit of only having to play the central character of the charming aristocratic twit Bertie in his inevitably fine tailoring, his two acting colleagues are forced to rush around swapping roles and sexes at the drop of a hat.

And there’s certainly a wealth of well-timed and hilarious slapstick to enjoy.

The over-worked two-thirds of the cast even have to push scenery around the stage, but are always careful to milk the comic possibilities to the last drop.

Even when minor moments go awry, so good is the show and its energetic cast that they cheekily turn them to their comic advantage without missing a beat.

Webb, in particular, is so inventive and watchable at all times you feel he could get away with almost anything.

At one point the Peep Show star briefly feigns being sick, rolling his tongue like Bob Mortimer’s decidedly odd son Erik in his and Vic Reeves’ current wonderfully daft BBC sitcom.

It confirms what fans of the, admittedly, far ruder, House of Fools in the audience might have already been thinking.

Despite the 1930s silk pyjamas and pleated plaid trousers, Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense is less a case of vintage literary adaptation and more one of gloriously modern farce.