Tag Archives: P. G. Wodehouse

Perfect Nonsense

In December, I had the delightful privilege of seeing Perfect Nonsense on tour at the Theatre Royal in Bath. For anyone not already aware, Perfect Nonsense is a stage adaptation (by David and Robert Goodale) of The Code of the Woosters. It’s been well received by West End audiences since opening in 2013, and is now touring the UK until mid-2015 (see the official site for details). If you’re planning to see the show and don’t want to read my review, look away now.  

The Goodale brothers’ clever adaptation sticks closely to Wodehouse’s original story and delicious dialogue, ensuring a production that is pure Wodehouse. But Perfect Nonsense is not a mere staging of the book. The Goodales have added their own comic twist by having all the characters played by just three actors.

CodeOfTheWoostersThe play opens with Bertie Wooster reclining in a favourite armchair. He begins to tell us the sorry tale of his recent entanglement with Madeline Bassett, Gussie Fink-Nottle, old pop Bassett, Sir Roderick Spode and an eighteenth-century cow-creamer. Wodehouse fans in the audience will know where this is going. To assist in the retelling, Bertie enlists the help of Jeeves, and Seppings (Aunt Dahlia’s butler) to ‘play’ the other characters in his narrative.

This ingenious strategy adds something new for Wodehouse fans, without detracting from Wodehouse’s original work it is also great fun. Jeeves and Seppings undergo an exhausting repertoire of inventive costume changes, in which lampshades become hats and curtains become dresses. The hard-working Seppings is, at one point, dressed as Aunt Dahlia inside a giant Spode suit. John Gordon Sinclair and Robert Goodale were utterly entertaining and memorable as Jeeves and Seppings (played by Matthew Macfadyen and Mark Hadfield in the original cast).

Bertie’s role is physically less demanding, with no elaborate costume or character changes to contend with, but requires a delicate balance of jovial stupidity. It’s not an exact science, but Wodehouse fans can be unforgiving when actors get it wrong. Stephen Mangan was well received in the original cast, and I thought Joel Sams did a sound job (as cover for James Lance) in Bath.

Inventive sets were a highlight of this production, with two revolving interiors that cunningly transformed from Bertie’s London flat into an antique shop in the Brompton Road, various locations around Totleigh Towers, and even accommodated a thrilling drive in Bertie’s two-seater. Set changes were comically incorporated into the theatrics: Jeeves twiddles a handle on the wall to change the painting over the fireplace, while Bertie jiggles paper flames at the end of two sticks. The dog Bartholomew also makes notable appearances. These small details added to the joy of the performance, without detracting from the complicated storyline or Wodehouse’s original dialogue.  

No doubt a Wodehouse purist, for such creatures I regret to say exist, would find something in this adaptation to pick on. It is often argued that Wodehouse ought not be adapted at all – that it somehow sullies the perfection of his art. But while comic prose was certainly his forte, Wodehouse’s versatility as a writer included a long association with the theatre, predominantly as a lyricist, but also as a writer and critic. As an added bonus, a reminder of Wodehouse’s theatrical career is provided by Tony Ring in the Perfect Nonsense programme.

During his lifetime, P.G. Wodehouse demonstrated a willingness to experiment with different forms and genres, and to collaborate with others. Intelligent adaptations like Perfect Nonsense remind us of this wider legacy, and remain welcome by fans who simply cannot get enough of his stuff.

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Thanks to regular readers who contacted me during my recent absence from Plumtopia. Awfully decent of you!  Results of the Wodehouse Survey are currently being collated into a paper for the 2015 convention and will be shared here in due course.

Pip Pip!

Honoria

Jeeves and the Aspiring Novelist

VeryGoodJeevesI’m an aspiring novelist myself. In between posts here, I bash away at the keyboard, developing my own half-baked comedy adventures. I’ve not attempted Wodehouse (yet), but I was delighted and impressed with this piece by ‘SloopJonB’. He captures the tone of Wodehouse very well, and his Jeeves makes some astute observations about modern writing. Enjoy!

The Wipers Times (and Wodehouse?)

In my earlier piece, ‘Suffering from Cheerfulness’, I suggested that Wodehouse’s infamous radio broadcasts should be considered as part of a wider tradition of British humour in the face of adversity, particularly during wartime. My inspiration for writing was a volume of selected pieces from The Wipers Times. So I was delighted to discover another piece on this subject at the excellent blog: ‘Great War Fiction’. This one considers the possible influence of Wodehouse on the Wipers Times.

HP

Great War Fiction

Next week on BBC TV there’s a promising-looking film about The Wipers Times. Ian Hislop and Nick Newman are the authors.

It will tell the story of how they found a printing press under the blasted ramparts of Ypres, and put it to use to create a very witty paper.  I Like Newman’s comments on the aim of the film:

I imagine viewers might be expecting to see a tragic tale of lives lost in a futile war, and we’ve had a lot of films like that and some of them are very, very good. But this is another side to this story of the First World War, and I think it’s a particularly British thing that we tend to laugh in adversity and this is about the triumph of the human spirit in adversity. It shows how a group of men managed to survive the First World War…

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Wodehouse and Wittgenstein

The philosopher most often associated with Wodehouse is surely Spinoza. We know Jeeves preferred him to Nietzsche, whom he famously proclaimed to be ‘fundamentally unsound’ (Carry On, Jeeves). Jeeves’ views on the philosopher Wittgenstein are less clear, but it seems Wittgenstein was fundamentally sound in his appreciation for P.G. Wodehouse – as discussed in this lovely piece by George Simmers. My thanks to George Simmers for his kind permission to reblog here.

HP

Great War Fiction

During my Dornford Yates talk at the Newcastle Great War and Popular Culture conference earlier this year, I got an unexpected laugh (as well as some chuckles I’d planned for). It was when I quoted Wittgenstein saying:

I couldn’t understand the humour in Journey’s End.… I wouldn’t want to joke about a situation like that.”

I suppose people thought I was having a dig at humourless Teutons, or over-serious philosophers, but I didn’t intend this, actually.

In fact, Wittgenstein seems to have had a serviceable enough sense of humour when not in his most intellectually savage moods, and was a fan of P.G.Wodehouse (full details can be found in Ludwig Wittgenstein : Personal Recollections, ed. Rhees, Rush, Oxford 1981).

According to the memoir, Wittgenstein named Wodehouse’s Honeysuckle Cottage as the funniest thing he’d ever read. Not perhaps one of P.G.’s most famous works, it’s one of the…

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NOT SO FUNNY

the true life romance of a Wodehouse lover

In keeping with the current Plumtopia theme of Wodehouse and romance, I am delighted to share this piece by ‘wiseguy from the east ‘. It is the touching, true story of his own romance, and how P.G. Wodehouse helped his wooing.

I am keen to share as many stories from Wodehouse readers as possible in this series. Please see my introductory piece on the Great Wodehouse Romances for details.

HP

Idyll Dreams of an Idle Fellow

Recently at a friend’s house I met a stand up comic, who strongly resembled the laughing Buddha figurines. He was brilliant in his repartees and had all of us in tears with his quips. He was accompanied by a very attractive young woman, obviously in love with him, and we learnt that she was defying family pressures to be his muse and life mate.

I offered them a piece of unasked advice, sharing a warning that my wife has been giving my daughters.

To explain this shared wisdom, I have to tell a story.

In my teens I was a dark skinny bespectacled gangly boy, shy and nerdy, enthusiastic but indifferent at games, and absolutely addicted to reading. This did not make me popular among the boys of my peer group, and the girls I liked were all fictional. For self preservation amongst the denizens of the jungle that is…

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Great Wodehouse Romances: Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend (by Ken Clevenger)

BlandingsCastle
The superb short story ‘Lord Emsworth and the Girlfriend’ was published in ‘Blandings Castle’

My heartfelt thanks to the inimitable Ken Clevenger for contributing a wonderful and very fitting first piece in this Valentine’s series dedicated to the  Great Wodehouse Romances.

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Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend

by Ken  Clevenger

Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend” is the great Wodehousian romance, most worthy of a special Valentine. My starting point is the very nature of great romances. Love must blossom, however improbably. It will be heroic, idyllic, and set in the beauty of nature, but not without the odd nettle. In the end love conquers all, as someone once noted; Jeeves, perhaps?

The easy part is to recognize in this “perfect short story” that Blandings and its gardens are the bounty of nature. The nettle, perhaps I should have said thistle, as le mot juste, is A. McAllister. The hero, was ever a hero more beset by constant woes? is Clarence. His faithful companion and supporter: Beach. His opening ire, directed at “a blameless kippered herring,” makes the appearance of love seem unlikely. But as Clarence begins his wandering (pottering seems more apt but unlyrical), love appears as the heroine saves the hero from a dog-toothed fate, but not The Fete, with a commanding “Hoy!” Was ever love introduced so startlingly? And can one recall many other Wodehousian nods to mother as sweet as merely “wizened motherliness” as Gladys, the heroine, is described?

The hero’s trials include the foreign speech of the heroine, her protective bother, Ern, the usurping, ruling goddess of the castle, Connie, and the grim beast who guards these gardens and flarze. The hero’s path is stoney, not moss covered. Indeed, in his despair and struggles, at times “[h]e feels like a man who in error has kicked a favorite dog.” But in the end there is a welcome refuge, albeit normally a humble “lounge or retiring room for cattle.” And there the hero and heroine share their grim fates. Then love, and the courage to face the world unafraid in a high summer wonderland, emerge triumphant.

There is a feast, of course. The carnal nature of love is hinted at by wanton hand-holding and the greatest gift in the hero’s power is bestowed. There are classical references to Achillea, Euphorbia, Gypsophilia, Helianthus, and Thalictrum. The ancient ancestors of the hero appear to spur his courage for the final, fateful conflict. The ogre is dashed with a departing, defeated “Hphm.” The malevolent goddess is dashed too. It is, to steal a phrase, “all sweetness and light.”

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More submissions on this theme are wanted. More details on the series and how to respond can be found at my original post on the  Great Wodehouse Romances.

HP

(c) The above piece was penned by Ken Clevenger and copied here with his kind permission.

Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense

I recently came across this lovely review of the latest West End Wodehouse adaptation, ‘Perfect Nonsense’ – written by CATIEWRITES at One Stop Arts.
I’m hoping to get to the show soon too.

HP

In a Merry Hour: Caitlin E McDonald

Repost: with One Stop Arts closing, I migrated this review here.

In Perfect Nonsense Matthew Macfadyen, Stephen Mangan and Mark Hadfield serve up – on a silver platter – an evening of dulcet-toned, dinner-jacketed fun. Robert and David Goodale provide a fresh and lively take on the much beloved Wodehouse characters Jeeves and Wooster. At the Duke of York’s Theatre.

Gentle reader, you may already realise how difficult a thing it must be to successfully adapt Wodehouse. Though a successful lyricist and playwright, his novels are largely narrative-driven, with dialogue taking a secondary role. This makes for a challenging translation into dramatic form. How impressive the feat, therefore, of not only doing this, but also assigning the full cavalcade of characters from The Code of the Woosters to a cast of just three.

The Goodale brothers have made strengths of these two potential Scylla and Charybdises by presenting us with…

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