Robert Goodale and David Goodale, after P G Wodehouse
Octagon Theatre Bolton with Wiltshire Creative
Octagon Theatre Bolton
October 4 – 21; 2 hrs 15 mins
This is a new production of the three-man show that won the 2014 Olivier Award for best new comedy and which visited The Lowry eight or so years ago, and it’s every bit as funny still.
The basic format hasn’t changed: we meet Bertie Wooster at the start, who tells us that he and Jeeves are going to act a story for us (with a little help from another gentleman’s gentleman, Seppings), and so much of the laughter comes from seeing the two valets’ portrayals of all the other characters and their mishaps with the scenery. They’re all there from the classic P G Wodehouse novel, The Code of the Woosters – the one about the cow creamer: Aunt Dahlia (who is so imperious that being represented by a man with a beard doesn’t seem one bit out of place), Gussie Fink-Nottle the newt-fancier, pompous Sir Watkyn Bassett JP, Roderick Spode (the intimidating would-be Fascist leader whose followers are called the Black Shorts, black shirts being in short supply), “Stiffy” Bing (Sir Watkyn’s wayward niece) and of course Constable Oates, the hapless policeman.
The fun is on more than one level: Wodehouse’s prose style is often quite convoluted and, narrated by Bertie, the words have to be audible in every detail – a little bit harder on the three-dimensional thrust stage at the Octagon than with a proscenium stage. Our threesome does that effectively, and Marieke Audsley’s direction ensures that pacing is never too rapid, even when the visual gags are thick and fast.
There’s a fair bit of wild gesturing and some cultivation of repeated catch phrases, both of which fit with the nonsensical nature of proceedings and get laughs even when the finer points of the plot may be missed, and the characters are boldly and colourfully exaggerated. Subtle it may not be, but the audience laps it up.
The set (Olivia du Monceau) is nicely in-period and ingenious, having to be seen from three angles at once and yet to constantly transform. On the night I saw it, as well as the obvious how-to-move-the-scenery gags, there seemed to be one or awkward or sticky moments that put one in mind of The Play That Goes Wrong, but of course that could have been meant to happen. Not quite sure...
But it all comes down to the three performers. Luke Barton is tall, gangling and energetically daft as Bertie; Patrick Warner is Jeeves and much more – I loved his Fink-Nottle voice and characterisation, as well as his quite-contrary “Stiffy” – and Alistair Cope is a worthy Seppings (Sir Watkyn’s valet), as well as the scary Aunt Dahlia, the equally scary Spode, the antique dealer, et al. The quick costume changes are awesome, and you can only sympathise when it gets to the bit where one actor has to be two characters at once.
Pedantic note: I don’t think they had lowered-barrier-type level crossings for railway lines in the Jeeves and Wooster era, as depicted in the road journey, clever though that was in every other way.
More info and tickets here