PENELOPE Christopher, who has directed Athenaeum Limelight Players in their first play since the onset of the pandemic, has been a fan of Jeeves and Wooster for many years, so Perfect Nonsense seemed an ideal choice.
The basic requirements – given the constraints of social distancing and the need to give audiences confidence to return to the theatre after so many months – were a small cast “and something that would have people leaving the theatre laughing.”
Jeeves and Wooster (and Seppings) in Perfect Nonsense really fits the bill. Adapted by the Goodale brothers, Robert and David, its premise is Bertie Wooster’s desire to write and stage a play. Given Bertie’s general level of well-intentioned incompetence, it is of course essential that Jeeves should play along (ie do everything and make sure it all works). To fulfill the project, in terms of cast and set, Jeeves enlists the help of Aunt Dahlia’s loyal butler, Seppings.
The two are a formidable team – Jeeves (Jamie House) is brilliant at keeping his master more or less to the script, devising scenery, moving sets and playing a host of characters, while Seppings (Mark Whitwood) is a master of voices, ranging from the unspeakable proto-fascist Roderick Spode to Aunt Dahlia and Sir Watkyn Bassett’s crumbling butler.
Jeeves is hilarious as the newt-loving Gussie Fink-Nottle and sparky as Gussie’s on-and-off fiancee Madeline Bassett, but his finest scene is the confrontation between Stiffy Byng and her uncle, Sir Watkyn, literally moving between the characters, with the beastly baronet’s clothes and hair on one side and Stiffy’s curls and frills on the other.
It’s not just quick costume changes – there are scenes in which both Seppings and Jeeves have to be in two places at once, when Aunt Dahlia is squaring up to the horrible Spode (both Seppings) or Gussie braving the wrath of Sir Watkyn (Jeeves).
In the centre of the mayhem, occasionally on top of things but mostly baffled, is the delightfully daffy Bertie (Andrew Chapman), beset by aunts, narrowly avoiding unsuitable marriages and constantly grateful for Jeeves’ patience and ingenuity.
Perfect Nonsense continues at the Athenaeum on Friday 26th and 27th November – it is definitely a perfect antidote to the grim times we have been enduring!
Pictured: Jamie House as Jeeves as Gussie Fink-Nottle and Madeline Bassett.