Exit, pursued by aunt: Jeeves and Wooster play finally hits the West End

Stephen Mangan and Matthew Macfadyen step into well-polished Wodehousian shoes
  • @MrNickClark

Jeeves and Wooster are heading for the stage, with the adventures of P G Wodehouse’s most famous comic creations being adapted into a West End play for the first time.

The bumbling twit-about-town and his unflappable valet will be brought to the Duke of York’s Theatre in London from October in an adaptation called Perfect Nonsense.

It will star Stephen Mangan as Bertie and Matthew Macfadyen as Jeeves, stepping into the roles memorably portrayed on screen by Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry between 1990 and 1993.

Mangan said he hopes the play “will bring the characters to a new generation”. He added: “There will be a lot of people who either haven’t got around to reading Wodehouse or don’t know anything about him.”

The play, written by brothers Robert and David Goodale who were described as “Wodehouse nuts” by its director Sean Foley, is an adaptation of The Code of the Woosters. The novel, published in 1938, is widely regarding as the pinnacle of the Jeeves cannon.

Foley, who also directed the acclaimed stage adaptation of The Ladykillers, said: “The intention is to create a wonderfully funny evening in the theatre,” adding: “We want to bring the true spirit of the characters to the stage. We’d be crazy to do anything different.”

The Wodehouse estate is notoriously protective of the works, and the brothers had to perform parts of their play to gain approval. The estate, in an attempt to bring the books to a new readership, recently commissioned Sebastian Faulks to write Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, to be published in November.

The most recent TV Wodehouse adaptation, the BBC’s Blandings was a heavily panned by critics. Jeeves and Wooster also appeared in a short-lived musical by sirs Andrew Lloyd Webber and Alan Ayckbourn in 1975, and again in 1996.

Mangan said he was drawn to the role as “Bertie is such a brilliant character and he is part of one of the most iconic double acts of all time.”

The actor admitted he had not read anything by Wodehouse before being sent the script last year. “Since then I’ve been working my way through them. It’s like a cocaine addiction.” He has now read “between 15 and 20” of the Jeeves books, and is in awe of the author. “He breaks new ground with language. He comes up with similes that take your breath away. There’s a tremendous optimism and warmth to it. What’s great about the play is the writers are aware of that and almost every word in it is written by Wodehouse.”

Mangan added he was not worried about following in Fry and Laurie’s footsteps: “That was great casting.  But, hopefully, the world can cope with another Jeeves and Wooster 20 years later.”