There are few comic creations as recognisable as author PG Wodehouse’s English socialite Bertie Wooster and his erstwhile valet, Jeeves. Maintained in public consciousness by Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie – Jeeves and Wooster, respectively – in their 1990s British television series, the pair’s antics have spanned various types of media and remain hugely popular almost a century after first appearing in print.
Brothers David and Robert Goodale are the sibling playwrights who’ve added another adventure to the Jeeves and Wooster legacy. Entitled Perfect Nonsense, their 2014 play is inspired by Wodehouse’s own The Code of the Woosters and is centered around Bertie Wooster’s ambitious attempt to put on a one-man-show of his own. The brothers’ work has been received with raucous acclaim, winning a Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy and enjoying a continued run in London’s West End. Prior to the play’s run in Hong Kong the brothers tell us how it all came together.
Jeeves and Wooster are an enduring hallmark of British comedy. What about them is so endearing?
David: Jeeves and Wooster are a beautifully conceived double act. They are master and servant, not friends, but nonetheless they are totally devoted to each other. Somebody once described Jeeves as being like the perfect parent who, while disapproving of some of their child’s antics, is prepared to let them mess up before ultimately coming to the rescue.
How did the script come about?
D: The script evolved from a one-man show that Robert performed and I directed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in the early 1990s. As an actor, Robert had been looking for a vehicle that would give him the opportunity to play a whole range of comic characters and PG Wodehouse’s The Code of the Woosters leant itself perfectly to just such a show. About five years ago, Mark Goucher, a producer friend, who had been involved with the Edinburgh production, suggested we revive it and embark on a provincial UK tour, and we were persuaded to consider a completely fresh adaptation. It was at this point that we hit upon the idea of Bertie himself performing a one-man-show.
Tell us a little about the role of Seppings, which Robert is playing.
Robert: When it became clear to us that the play needed a third character, Aunt Dahlia’s butler, Seppings, was the obvious choice. We decided that he could have ‘a particular aptitude for impersonations’. The man is very frail and on his last legs, but when he has to perform other roles, he comes to life and lights up the stage with his energy. Having already performed the one-man show version so many times, I developed an affinity with the material and felt that being in this current ‘Jeeves and Wooster’ incarnation was just a natural progression. Ironically, playing this old retainer is one of the most physically demanding roles that I’ve ever taken on. It was a big challenge.
What are your hopes for Perfect Nonsense’s premiere in Hong Kong?
D: Perfect Nonsense is a quintessentially British play but it seems to defy cultural boundaries. I’ve had the unlikely privilege of seeing it performed in a variety of languages, including Swedish and Hungarian, and it seems to retain its appeal. We took the current production to India earlier this year and it went down a storm, so we’re hoping that Hong Kong audiences will relish it just as much.