Robert Webb (Bertie Wooster) and Mark Heap (Jeeves)
Mark Heap (Jeeves) and Robert Webb (Bertie Wooster)
Mark Heap (Jeeves), Robert Webb (Bertie) and Mark Hadfield (Steppings)
James Lance and John Gordon Sinclair will take over as the final Jeeves and Wooster from June 30
It’s rare that a West End show’s second cast is as good as its first. But for fans of cult noughties Britcoms, something special is going on at the Duke of York's Theatre, as Robert Webb (Jez from ‘Peep Show’) and Mark Heap (Brian from ‘Spaced’) take over the beloved title roles in this giddily daft play-within-a-play adaptation of PJ Wodehouse’s ‘The Code of the Woosters’.
All three parts – Mark Hadfield is retained from the first cast – are demanding. But the show, presented as Bertie Wooster’s own amateurish re-enactment of a recent adventure, stands or falls on the actor playing the cheery toff.
At first glance Webb is strange casting: ‘Peep Show’s Jeremy was embittered, mercenary and cynical. But he also had an endearingly childlike quality, which Webb brings to the fore here for a radiantly daffy performance, grinning delightedly and blinking with cheerful incomprehension at every hairpin twist in ‘Perfect Nonsense’s florid plot. It is no easy feat to command the stage while looking like you don’t have the faintest clue what’s going on, but Webb makes idiocy look effortless.
Heap has made a career out of drollness, and archetypal deadpan butler Jeeves is almost too easy a fit. But he shines later on, as he diversifies into other parts, building to a virtuoso maelstrom of a scene in which he simultaneously plays a father and a daughter engaged in a heated row with each other.
Plus, immense credit to Hadfield, the show’s backbone. He’s a one-man army of characters, tackling everything from Wooster’s termagant aunt to a level crossing, to discreetly hilarious effect.
Sean Foley’s production makes an absolute virtue of the fact that it’s impossible to follow the story (something to do with Wooster being blackmailed into stealing a jug, I think); it is sensationally silly and to be honest I’d forgotten the finer details by the time I reached the tube.
But like a spot-on cucumber sandwich or a perfectly mixed jug of Pimm’s, ‘Perfect Nonsense’ leaves a very agreeable impression – it's frothiness elevated to art, a very English success.