Sir skimps on style, but Jeeves is in fine form

First Night
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The Independent Culture
An insight into the psyche of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber was evident last night.

Twenty years ago, the saviour of Britain's balance of payments had his one and only flop. By Jeeves - with Lloyd Webber as composer, Alan Ayckbourn as lyricist and Eric Thompson, father of Emma, as director - opened to dreadful reviews and closed within weeks.

David Hemmings, who played Bertie Wooster in that production, was in the audience to see the show reborn at the Duke of York's Theatre, central London, last night.

Though he went on to become the most successful composer of British musicals ever, Sir Andrew has never forgotten his moment of failure. If an interviewer didn't ask him about By Jeeves, he would bring up the subject himself.

Now, 20 years on, he has decided to exorcise the ghost. He and Ayckbourn have re-created the show. It has new songs, there have been many changes to the script from Ayckbourn and it is snappier and shorter.

Nevertheless for the opening 20 minutes it left a first night audience a little bewildered.

This seemed extremely small-scale Lloyd Webber. It was almost an Edinburgh Fringe skit. The set had barely any scenery, there were just five musicians, and bore the frankly unnecessary conceit of presenting the Wodehouse story in the form of Jeeves and Wooster putting on a piece of amateur dramatics.

Then things began to perk up considerably. As the audience began to accept this was not a lavish Sunset Boulevard or Phantom of the Opera, it warmed to the delightful melodies and their knockabout Ayckbourn lyrics.

The predatory wooing of Wooster by the pugnacious Honoria Glossop ("The secret with men, of course, is to treat them like horses") provided one of the many moments that had the audience buckling up with laughter.

The show had light comedy ensemble acting of the highest standard, led by Steven Paceyand Malcolm Sinclair.

Rarely has a Lloyd Webber show provided so much humour. Afterwards, members of the audience described the show as "great fun" and "daft".

This was Lloyd Webber inminor key, but no less pleasurable for that. The lingering pain in his psyche has been purged.