It’s hard to imagine why this comedy won an Olivier award a few years ago.
Yes, Thorpe is funny as Wooster. Yes the props and set are fun and creative. But the rest of show is, unfortunately, dull in the extreme. Webb and Ryan mumble, race and shout their way through their lines, sometimes simultaneously. They seem as unenthusiastic about the whole thing as I am.
At one point, Wooster notes that there is always one boring bit in every play. Unfortunately the boring bit in this one lasts for two hours. The jokes are repetitive, familiar and at times even painful. The bespectacled character crashes into things and the short guy can’t reach anything. Ha. Ha. The Roderick Spode (aka Hitler) character was in the original television series but is undeniably dated. There are several awkward pauses when a joke awaits laughter and receives none. Why do people clap at the end of a comedy they haven’t laughed at?
You might argue that there is a generational divide in the audience, and that the heyday of slapstick comedy and upstairs-downstairs drama is over for us younger viewers. This is evidently not true. Pantomime thrives using the former and as for the latter – Downton Abbey is as popular as ever. In fact, there are still reruns of the Jeeves and Wooster TV series. So why is this production so… stale?
Probably because it is Perfect Nonsense – an apt name for the play. The plot meanders randomly and often incomprehensibly through a series of episodes involving a cow creamer and some newts. The three man cast play a host of characters who, if you are unfamiliar with the original, blur into one. This isn’t helped by the fact that you can’t really understand what the actors are saying. The opening and closing monologues are dull and the gratuitous dance scene at the end is awkward at best.
There are two key moments that best sum up the production. The first is the moment that you regret having stayed awake throughout the performance in the hope that it would get better. The second is the moment you realise that the highlight of the show is Webb’s impression of a newt. The play really is nonsense, but it’s by no means perfect.