Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A fine mess

If you had to guess what you might get from a stage adaptation of one of P G Wodehouse's Jeeves & Wooster tales, then you'd probably suggest the following: dialogue that sparkles and fizzes like the sort of vintage champagne Bertie routinely downs down at the Drones Club; wit and turns of phrase so sharp they leave you needing stitches; a farcical, convoluted plot that involves Bertie finding himself in a fix only partially of his own making and left reliant on his trusty valet to save his bacon.

On those scores, Perfect Nonsense certainly doesn't disappoint. The winner of the Best Comedy award at the 2014 Olivier Awards is currently touring the country after a West End run, and pitched up at Oxford's Playhouse last week. The Goodale Brothers' play is an adaptation of the novel The Code Of The Woosters, which, when it was adapted for the ITV series by Clive Exton, was split into two episodes - here, though, its plot is effectively performed in its entirety.

What is most remarkable about Perfect Nonsense, however, is the staging. Not only does it require phenomenal skill, energy and adaptability from its cast of just three (Peep Show's Robert Webb as Wooster; Jason Thorpe as Jeeves, Sir Watkyn Bassett, Madeleine Bassett, Stiffy Byng and Bertie's newt-fancying chum Gussie Fink-Nottle; Christopher Ryan of The Young Ones and Absolutely Fabulous as Seppings, fascist leader of the Brown Shorts Sir Roderick Spode, Aunt Dahlia and Constable Oates) - and a clever script that choreographs the characters in such a way that the multi-role approach works. The play also impresses in its use of scenery, which gradually accumulates on stage in a way reminiscent of Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense (albeit less deliberately pretentious and artsy).

The Goodale Brothers and director Sean Foley make merry with the form, frequently breaking the fourth wall, undercutting any illusions of reality and gleefully and deliberately drawing attention to the absurdities of theatrical convention. At a couple of points, for instance, Ryan appears at the side of the stage to visibly contribute sound effects, while much currency is made of the fact that on occasion Thorpe and Ryan have to attempt to play two of their characters at once.

Perfect Nonsense, then: the title pretty much says it all.

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