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Jeeves Comes to Barnes! (23rd to 27th February 2010)

 

And Murray Hedgcock watches……


Can you truly dance the Charleston to The Varsity Drag?


With due apologies to the diligent director and cast of Come On, Jeeves!, staged by the Barnes Charity Players from February 23 to 27, I couldn’t help worrying about this when the dance was staged.


In fact the music was something of a puzzle throughout this pleasing revival of the Wodehouse-Bolton play, staged at the Old Sorting Office on Barnes Common.


The introductory mood melody was clearly played by a modern keyboard – not yet born when the show first aired in 1952.


And the incidental music that popped up here and there bore little relation to the sounds of the Fifties. You rather felt that it should do so – just to help set the mood.


But no matter: this was a thoroughly relaxing, entertaining and rewarding night out in what must rank as a prime example of “little theatre”.


The Old Sorting Office, a one-time Royal Mail depot transformed into a community centre staging all sorts of events in this affluent Southwest London suburb (locals refer to it as “The Village”), offers an auditorium barely as big as the stage.


Just 65 seats make for an intimate and cosy setting (and to the relief of seasoned visitors, those seats are new and markedly more comfortable than the originals).


“Come On!” is of course the only Wodehouse work in which Jeeves appears sans Bertie – and indeed the only one in which that common fallacy is justified, in that he is for the nonce a butler, rather than a valet.


He has been lent by BW to Bill, 9th Earl of Rowcester, whose finances are in parlous state, but who hopes by presenting the image of a fully-staffed establishment he will be able to sell to some unsuspecting pigeon the leaking, creaking family seat, Rowcester Abbey.   


As a result, Jeeves practically carries the play, and he was done full justice by John Mounsey, in a masterly performance pitched at just the right tone.


His Jeeves was commanding but discreet, never intrusive but always there when required, ready to proffer opinion or advice, but fading smoothly into the background when “the quality” needed space.


It was a nice irony that John’s programme profile recorded his dislikes as including “wearing suits”: he wore the uniform of a butler with masterly aplomb, clearly not merely accustomed to doing so, but revelling in its mixed mark of the feudal and the authoritative.


The other standout performance was by Elizabeth Ollier as Mrs Spottsworth, the wealthy, exuberant, psychical research devotee, whose descent on the Abbey is the catalyst for all sorts of mayhem.


Miss Ollier rightly dominated her scenes – charmingly dressed by wardrobe mistress Pennie Bayliss in a succession of eye-catching floating draperies that projected exactly the right personality.


Her American accent was well sustained – never over the top, but pitched to the right degree, not forgetting her continuing etching of every syllable in “Rowcester”.


Andrew Lawston’s whole-hearted Lord Rowcester was a touch too put-upon: he needed less defensive protest and more counter-attack, while Cate Manning as his fiancée Jill Wyvern was decorative, but hardly possessing the authoritative aura of the qualified veterinary surgeon that Plum made her.


Michelle Warren was smooth if not bouncy enough as Lady Carmoyle, while keeping her real-life husband Richard (Lord Rory Carmoyle) under firm control, to his amiable acquiescence.  


David Day made a somewhat anonymous entrance as Captain Biggar, the ferocious white hunter tracking down the dastardly bookmaker Honest Patch Perkins and his clerk who have bilked him of big winnings (they of course being Bill and Jeeves), but gained in authority as the show proceeded.


Fergus Kelly (Chief Constable Blagden) and Nicole Shamier in the curiously pointless role of parlourmaid Ellen gave solid support, while Patrick Findlater, heard but not seen until the final curtain as the racecourse commentator, sounded just right.


Darrol Blake’s set was affectionate and appropriate, as might be expected: he was the production designer on the first series of BBC TV’s The World of Wooster back in 1965.  


And high praise is due director Marc Pearce who at 26, in his debut at the helm, showed a sure touch in getting a thoroughly delightful show out of his cast.


Note from our Website Editor:


The director of the play, Marc Pearce has written to point out a few things.


Marc rightly says that Bill is the Earl of Rowcester in the better known book Ring For Jeeves, wheras in the play Come On Jeeves! he is the Earl of Towcester.


Also he says; that the music used was:


"The Mess Around - Ray Charles - 1953 (we used an instrumental version of this which was of course a modern recording played on keyboard)


Ain't that a shame - Fats Domino - 1955


The Great Pretender - The Platters - 1955


The black bottom Charleston - Bunny Berigan - 1937 (referred to in the play text)


Also the same black bottom Charleston score but a newer clearer stereo recording by the Charleston Kids was used as the finale track.


Our Choreographer, who trained at Pineapple Dance Studios, put together our dance which was an accurate reflection on the original black bottom routine, to the unfamiliar dancer the steps can be very easily found on You Tube! Unfortunately Ginger Rogers was not in my cast, but they performed the simple shortened routine accurately as instructed."