‘Perfect Nonsense’ is a masterpiece of comic husbandry. Here’s the recipe.
Take the wit of P.G. Wodehouse. Pollinate it with the farcical excesses of Brian Rix. Sprinkle in some Goon dust. Introduce some stray genes from ‘The Play Wot I Wrote’. Add an immaculate cast of three. Bake it in Director Sean Foley’s outrageous imagination for a few months. Serve to a full house. Watch them lap it up … and wait for the standing ovation.
Let’s start with the Wodehouse. “The Peep Show’s” Robert Webb is a brilliant Bertie Wooster, complete with inane, silly-ass grin and dithering, directionless feet…even when moon walking. He nails him in his opening line to the audience. “Sorry, I thought it was 7.30 for 8”; and wraps up the show with “I say Jeeves, do we have to do all this again tomorrow?”
What he is doing is telling a rather convoluted story about a disastrous weekend away at Totleigh Towers…and he calls upon his faithful butler Jeeves and colleague Seppings to help him out. “People told me I should do this on the stage, so here we are. Rather easy this acting lark; isn’t it!”
The routines are side splitting. There’s a wonderfully worked slow motion, strobe light, robbery, and an absolutely hilarious bathroom scene in which the naked, bathing Wooster has failed to think ahead to the eventual necessity to re-emerge in front of 600 people. Jeeves’ solution brought the house down.
But if you thought this was merely a vehicle for Robert Webb – forget it. The cast is a divine trinity of brilliant and perfectly syncopated comedy actors. Jason Thorpe slips out of Jeeves’ suit to play both the stiff, tweedy Sir Watkin Bassett and his wafty, weak-kneed daughter – sometimes simultaneously. Whilst, in a stroke of production genius, Christopher Ryan – one of the shortest actors in Spotlight – is cast as the towering Roderick Spode…creating production problems solved with utter hilarity.
The cast is superb…but the production is superber. Incredibly imaginative visual gags are legion as the actors seemingly make it all up as they go along; creating comedy flames in a hardboard fireplace and turning a cuddly toy into a terrifying terrier.
It’s the way they reel you in that leaves you helpless. Those in the upper tiers couldn’t help noticing there is a circle cut into the stage. It’s ignored by the actors for ages. But then Christopher Ryan – in his guise as the corpulent Constable Oates – produces his bicycle. There is much faffing with his bike stand and chain – until he finally mounts his steed and peddles on the spot. At which point the stage revolves. Sheer genius.
There is a perfectly good story in there and its treated with complete respect, so Wodehouse fans have nothing to fear. But the production is the real star of the show.
It has you in the palm of its hand as clever absurdity follows outrageous joke.
I didn’t want it to stop. And it didn’t. Just when you think its all over, the trio burst into a dazzlingly silly dance routine which would have the “Strictly” judges begging for mercy. It’s sheer nonsense – and it’s perfect.
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Photo Hugo Glendinning