Landor Theatre February-March 2011
This modest and mildly
shambolic little musical has much of the feel of an Edinburgh Fringe
student production about it, and if you approach it with no higher
expectations, offers a pleasant couple of hours.
The background: in 1975 Alan
Ayckbourn (book and lyrics) and Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) both had
their worst flop ever with Jeeves, a dreary, overproduced musical based
on the P. G. Wodehouse stories of a gormless gent and his
constantly-saving-the-day butler. In 1996 they returned to the corpse,
rewrote the plot, threw out most of the songs and added a half-dozen new
ones, and produced the much simpler, lighter-on-its-feet By Jeeves,
which was a modest success.
It's that version, further
modified to fit a small above-a-pub theatre, that we have here.
Ayckbourn's book has Bertie
Wooster filling a gap at a village fete by telling of one of his
misadventures - a running gag has him repeatedly forgetting the details
and having to be prompted by Jeeves - which is then acted out with
whatever performers and props are available.
The story is typical Wodehouse
(though by Ayckbourn): a weekend in the country in which Bertie and his
pals cause mayhem by switching names in order to woo or escape their
There are two minor problems with the book that might bother Wodehouse fans: Bertie begins to look more like the second banana in a Ray Cooney farce, in mounting panic at trying to keep up with the stratagems, than like Wodehouse's amiable dimwit; and Jeeves is reduced to little more than narrator for too much of the length.
Meanwhile, Lloyd Webber fans
will find little to cheer them in a score that seems largely a throwaway
affair. Even the most pleasant melodies, such as 'Travel Hopefully' or
'The Hallo Song' have a generic anyone-could-have-written-them feel, and
the single best song, 'Half a Moment' is given to the two least
important characters (and further disguised by being misdirected by Nick
Bagnall as if it were a comic number).
Still, if you don't demand too
much, this production has its share of small delights. Most of the comic
moments score, with a farcical if not always Wodehousian flavour, the
use of random props to create the set is clever, and there are
occasional moments of inspired madness, as when choreographer Andrew
Wright somehow turns 'Love's Maze' into a Morris dance.
Kevin Trainor makes an
attractive Bertie and Paul M. Meston retains some dignity as Jeeves even
when he seems to have wandered in from some other play. The rest of the
cast range from adequate downward, but the vaguely amateur feel of their
contribution is part of the production's charm.
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Review of By Jeeves - Landor Theatre 2011