By: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Alan Ayckbourn
Directed by: Chris Jordan
Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
Date: Wednesday 12th September 2007
This was good fun. The premise was a church fund-raising event, put on by Bertie Wooster and some chums, at which Bertie is to be the star and demonstrate his banjo-playing skills. The set backed this up, being the inside of a church hall(?), with the band off to our left, entrances on our right, and a small stage at the back. In addition, several of the cast also sat in the auditorium to begin with, and only joined in the action on stage when things took a mysteriously strange turn.
Some miscreant had made off with Bertie’s banjo! Knowing the books, I suspect that Jeeves bribed some youngster in the vicinity to do the deed, as he’s known not to approve of his employer’s musical efforts. Anyway, Jeeves has sent for a replacement, from Kent, and there will be a two hour delay before it comes. In the meantime, Jeeves suggests that Bertie tells the assembled throng (for such we were) a story. With much prompting from Jeeves, Bertie takes us through the difficulties of the assorted engagements, courtships and burglaries (fake) that enlivened one weekend at Totleigh Towers.
It’s a typical Wodehouse story. There are numerous changes of name. Bertie, for example, goes by his own name, or Gussie Fink-Nottle, or Bingo Little, depending on circumstances. There’s the compulsory irate old geezer (Bassett, in this case), who’s got a down on Bertie, a bumptious American who threatens everything by falling for Madeleine Bassett, and of course the mandatory falling out between Bertie and Jeeves, resulting in a standoff which inevitably leads to Bertie’s complete capitulation as he finds himself totally unable to handle the twists and turns of the plot. Jeeves, as usual, contrives the perfect solution, demonstrating his amazing genius and almost Shakespearean understanding of human nature. And all before the banjo arrives!
Highlights include the fake burglary, with Bertie clambering up a ladder that changes direction halfway up (you had to be there), the maze that kept blocking Bertie’s attempts to get out of it, Bertie’s hat stand impersonation, and the way all the women kept falling for Bertie when all he wanted to do was get them safely paired up with the men who adored them. My favourite section was the car trip to Totleigh Towers, with Jeeves turning the car round to show changes of direction, and scenery and people passing by on the stage at the back.
The performances were very good. Robin Armstrong gave us a very agile Bertie Wooster. His singing and dancing were excellent, and the only sad thing was that we didn’t get to see if he was any good at playing the banjo, as the replacement, when it came, had some special strings that seemed silent to the person playing the instrument, but could be heard really clearly by the audience. Yes, this explanation was given by Jeeves, and yes, Bertie fell for it.
Jeffrey Holland played Jeeves, and had all the necessary presence, gravitas and imperturbability. As stage manager of the fund-raiser, he managed to cobble together some wonderful props at short notice – the car made out of boxes, the maze seat, the bed clothes – although the Wizard of Oz costumes at the end were a bit unusual. We also recognised Jon Trenchard, recently Bianca in Propeller’s Taming of the Shrew, and he did very well playing Bingo Little.
The music was OK, but nothing memorable, and the band were very good. I enjoyed myself well enough, but I wouldn’t necessarily see it again, as the humour is pretty well worn by now. Good production, though.
© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me