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The Theatreguide.London Review

By Jeeves
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 respective girlfriends.

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.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of By Jeeves - Landor  Theatre 2011


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