REVIEW: Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense

Jeeves and Wooster.

Jeeves and Wooster. - Credit: Archant

At Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday (October 11).

This isn’t perfect nonsense – it’s perfect acting. Inspired. A spectacular triumph of three actors playing 10 roles between them. One of the funniest shows currently touring British theatre, well-deserving of its Olivier Award for Best New Comedy.

A magnificent medley of the P G Wodehouse characters is here and the device is simple and ingenious. Jeeves and Bertie (John Gordon Sinclair and James Lance) tell a complicated web of stories with the help of Aunt Dahlia’s butler Seppings (the inestimable Robert Goodale).

Bertie, as ever the narrator, has hired a theatre which allows them to bring in the set and props as they go along and then people the stage. Here are Madeline Bassett and her fiancé Gussie Fink-Nottle, Stiffy Byng and her intended, the Reverend Stinker Pinker, Madeline’s terrifying father, Sir Watkyn Bassett, Bertie’s Aunt Dahlia and the villain of the piece, Roderick Spode. All played by the threesome. They change characters like a kaleidoscope.

John Gordon Sinclair as Jeeves is simply astonishing. Sinclair plays three men and two women with dashing aplomb, breath-taking dexterity and the quickest costume changes in the business. Sinclair’s short-sighted buffoon Gussie Fink-Nottle is a perfect foil to his solemn Jeeves. He manages to make everyone, including the two girls, the droopy Madeline Bassett and the strident Stiffy Byng quite distinct and gloriously recognisable as characters each with their own demeanour and voices. It’s a masterclass.

At one point, he has to have a dialogue with himself. Stiffy Byng and her uncle, Sir Watkyn Bassett, deliver a fast exchange as they argue over whom she should marry.

In half a tweed suit and pipe and half a 1920s frock, complete with a cloche hat, Sinclair sits down for his indignant Stiffy and stands to present his pompous Sir Watkyn. It’s lightning fast and immaculate.

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There are surprises every few seconds. Goodale (who has four parts) is wonderful as Aunt Dahlia with the voice of Ann Widdecombe and the body of a Felicity Kendal. He is obliged because of the quick changes to wear one costume behind another. So you can see the dainty legs of his Aunt Dahlia behind the grotesque walk in costume on wheels he has for the dastardly giant Roderick Spode.

Goodale has an elastic body. He is an absolute joy. He also plays a village policeman on a bike. His characters and costumes unfold within seconds of each other.

The plot almost doesn’t matter. It’s terribly complicated with engaged couples estranged and making up again, silver to be stolen, notebooks to be used for blackmail. Jeeves sorts it all out by the end. It’s an ingenious vehicle for an evening of delightful daftness.

It’s funny, it’s slick. It’s enormously clever and the performances are sublime. It’s good clean fun, suitable for anyone from five to 500 and so refreshing to see accomplished actors at the absolute top of their game, giving difficult and demanding performances with such ease, such aplomb, such panache. I say! Honestly, it’s a spiffing show. Top speed. Top hole!