Bertie Wooster has decided to take to the stage. “I’ve been to the theatre”, he declares, “how hard can it be?” Harder than it looks, it turns out. Luckily, as always, his trusty butler Jeeves is there to rescue him, jazzing up the scenery, providing Foley sound effects and – along with another butler, Seppings – taking on the other parts.
The Goodale Brothers’ adaptation of PG Wodehouse’s The Code of The Woosters leans heavily on theatrical tropes as wobbly as Bertie’s scenery. For instance, opening and closing invisible doors becomes a running gag.
Due to all the metatheatre, the play takes a while to get going. However, as the entanglements accumulate, the pace picks up. John Terry’s production yields some great moments of physical comedy, including a slow-motion chase scene.
Matthew Cavendish plays Bertie with a faux amateurism and an aristocratic bluster that starts off grating but becomes endearing. As the straight-man Jeeves, Andrew Ashford has a great line in unimpressed facial expressions. Andrew Cullum demonstrates his range, playing roles including the imposing Roderick Spode and Bertie’s matronly Aunt Dahlia.
Alex Marker’s set situates the play firmly in the 1930s, managing to be both drawing room and theatre at once. There are some ingenious scenic transformations – at one point the fireplace turns into a car.
The Theatre Chipping Norton and the Barn Theatre’s co-production is entertaining and staged with considerable craft. The characters are familiar, the jokes well-worn and the happy ending assured. However, at points the nostalgia risks tipping into anachronism.