There have been, amongst others, Morecambe and Wise, Matthau and Lemmon, Ant and Dec and now there is Macfadyen and Mangan. I have always been aware from watching the TV series Green Wing and Episodes that Stephen Mangan is a great comic actor but Macfadyen? He is a superb actor but not so well known for comedic roles. After his stint as Jeeves and, many other roles in this wonderfully funny play, Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense, we can see that he is more than a match for his sidekick and, it turns out, great friend Mangan. They trained at RADA together and obviously get on tremendously well, such is their rapport as gentleman and butler in this adaptation by the Goodale Brothers of The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse.
Directed by the excellent comic director, Sean Foley of The Ladykillers fame, Jeeves and Wooster at The Duke of Yorks is a delight. Mangan is a natural at confiding his first person narrative with the audience, allowing them, in effect to become a part of the proceedings. The pretext of Perfect Nonsense is that Wooster is presenting a play about his recent experiences at Totleigh Towers, where he tried to steal an antique silver cow-creamer at the behest of his Aunt Dahlia. Realising that he actually can’t play all the relevant characters himself, he calls upon Jeeves and Aunt Dahlia’s butler Seppings (Mark Hadfield) to play themselves and many other various characters. Much to Wooster’s astonishment, his butler is also a dab hand at inventive and elaborate set designs in order to make his play more realistic. Hilarity ensues, especially when Macfadyen simultaneously plays both a man and a woman with adroitness and perfect timing.
When Jeeves can’t manage to portray a character because he has to be on stage as someone else, Seppings, the third side to the triangle, steps in. Especially funny is this somewhat vertically challenged actor’s turn as the seven foot tall, Roderick Spode. The running visual gag of him standing on a chair or stool wearing an eight foot leather coat is sublime. The fact that he becomes all his characters without losing his original grumpy expression and unwillingness to participate only adds to the laughter.
I can’t imagine a better threesome playing these roles. Mangan’s facial expressions are wondrous and compliment Macfadyen’s dour Jeeves to perfection. He wins the audience over immediately and elicits their support by grinning manically whenever he suffers a moment of embarrassment. These moments tend to be quite frequent, such is his inadequacy at story telling, but we’re always on his side no matter how ludicrous he becomes. His playing with a rubber duck in a bubble bath centre stage endears us to him even more. An idiot he may be, but a lovable one at that.
Meanwhile Matthew Macfadyen is the perfect English gentleman’s butler. Laconic, unflappable and supremely confident, he manages to sort out every problem that arises. Thus his turns at all the other characters, especially Bertie’s ghastly former fiancée Madeline Bassett, are even more incongruous and joyful.
The pinching of the Globe’s idea of finishing a production with a dance is an inspired choice. Who would guess that Jeeves, Wooster and Seppings could do a more than passable Charleston, choreographed by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille? Part farce, part tour de force, part homage to Wodehouse, Perfect Nonsense is Perfect Entertainment.