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Robert Webb in Chichester for Jeeves and Wooster play Perfect Nonsense

PUBLISHED: 12:55 02 March 2015 | UPDATED: 12:02 03 November 2017

Jason Thorpe and Robert Webb in Perfect Nonsense - photo by Hugo Glendinning

Jason Thorpe and Robert Webb in Perfect Nonsense - photo by Hugo Glendinning

Archant

Following an award-winning run in the West End, the Jeeves and Wooster play Perfect Nonsense is in Chichester from 2 to 7 March. Peep Show star Robert Webb, who plays Bertie Wooster, tells us what to expect

Robert Webb, perhaps best-known for playing the sardonic and indolent Jeremy in Peep Show, will reprise his turn as Bertie Wooster in Perfect Nonsense for a 10 week tour. The production comes to Chichester Festival Theatre in March.

Next year, Webb and his comedy partner, David Mitchell, will mark the 12th anniversary of their popular sitcom Peep Show with a ninth and final season.

It will be the end of a comedy era. Webb hit upon a zeitgeist with his portrayal of Jeremy, the money-borrowing man-child biding his time until he breaks into the music industry. Now though, Mitchell chairs BBC quiz shows and Webb has carved out a successful stage career (he recently starred in Neville’s Island with Ade Edmondson and Neil Morrissey, to much critical acclaim).

Perfect Nonsense played at the Duke of York’s Theatre throughout last year, originally starring Stephen Mangan. It was one of the hits of 2014, winning the Olivier Award for Best Comedy. Robert had a 12 week run and “had a really, really good time, so when this 10 weeks of the tour came up I went for it. It’s such a fun part.”

Wodehouse is one of our best-loved comedy writers, rivalling even Wilde for bon mots (viz “She looked as if she had been poured into her clothes and had forgotten to say ‘when’.”). Robert “read a couple of the novels as a teenager. I think lots of people get an anthology from a well-meaning uncle when they’re about that age and it puts them off for life, but if you get the right novel then you’re on your way.” For Robert, that was Code of the Woosters, on which the play Perfect Nonsense is based.

The spectres of Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie loom fairly large in any dramatisation of Jeeves and Wooster. As a fellow Cambridge Footlights alumnus, Robert says “For once I wasn’t borrowing that much from Hugh Laurie, because his is a smaller screen performance, whereas this is very theatrical and very mad.” 
The concept is that Bertie has been encouraged by his friends at the Drones Club to put on a show. Jeeves, with his customary omniscience, has built the 
scenery and plays multiple characters.

The result is a frenetic, slapstick free-for-all, and presumably a true physical challenge. “I won’t need to be on a diet,” agreed Robert. “I think [last time] I dropped a couple of inches on my waist and at least half a stone. It’s also vocally quite a challenge really because he just doesn’t shut up for two hours. You’ve really got to hit that back wall, because it’s the sort of show where the more energy you give the audience, the more they’ll give back. It’s pretty full-on, but that’s partly why I enjoy it so much. There are no boring bits!”

The ingenious staging and cunning props contribute to the physical humour. There are so many moving parts that it seems a miracle that the show isn’t more shambolic. Robert says that in London “The revolve didn’t work one night – it just sort of stopped one night halfway through a scene change. That was an interesting moment – they had to stop the show for a few minutes and I started talking to the audience. Apart from that, basically everyone came on in the right trousers.”

During our conversation, I committed an interviewer’s cardinal sin and asked Robert to give me a blast of Bertie’s voice. It was an eardrum-puncturing aristocratic honk that had me roaring.

And the audience will no doubt be roaring in Chichester: “It’s a very harmless, benign and joyful world. The joy of having a semi-omnipresent butler who can do magic things is just a fun thing to watch – the hapless idiot and genius servant. It’s a well-established double act and it never really dates. We don’t have servants anymore but we do have idiots.

“You get the impression that Bertie and all of his friends are complete morons and they are going to end up running the country. It’s not as if anything’s changed.”

Tickets range from £14-£35 | Book online at www.cft.org or call 01243 781312

 

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