Quotations from P G Wodehouse are copyright of, and reprinted by permission of, the Trustees of the Wodehouse Estate © 2019 The P G Wodehouse Society (UK)

The P G Wodehouse Society (UK)

by Christine Hewitt

Carry On, Jeeves

Congratulations to the Lincoln-based amateur – and entirely volunteer-run – Common Ground Theatre Company on their recent world premiere run of writer Jez Ashberry’s new play Carry On, Jeeves. It was well worth my journey up the A1.

There was an air of happy anticipation on the Friday night in the lovely community space that is the Lincoln Drill Hall, with Anne Dudley’s music from ITV’s Jeeves & Wooster series playing in the background and a member of the audience stumbling up the stairs and announcing that his fooling about was “not part of the show”.

On stage a simple set of furnishings and props was backed by a vast white canvas, behind which the back-lit shadows of a live band appeared from time to time, playing well. They were joined by a charming singer during the interval. This was Billie Baker and the Bootleg Babies, put together specially for this show.

Jason Hippisley handled the huge and taxing role of Bertie with gusto despite being slightly afflicted by one of those seasonal coughs. A tall man with presence and many engagingly athletic moves, he infused Bertie with a touch of Monsieur Hulot to good effect. Graham Turner was a quiet, modest and friendly Jeeves and the relationship between the two worked well. There was a gradual shift from the grubby vest-clad Bertie lounging in a rumpled bed at the beginning, to Bertie dressed in an ill-looking ‘sprightly young check’, to the second half of the play when Jeeves’s influence had taken effect and Bertie was looking sharp.

Two more outstanding performances from the fifteen strong cast were Irene North, who gripped in every scene into which she erupted as Aunt Agatha, her crystal clear diction ensuring that we did not miss an insult; and Kate Bartlett as Honoria Glossop with a snorty laugh and nicely pitched galumphing manner.

The audience clearly knew their Wodehouse and chuckled as they recognised the familiar passages of dialogue. The story-telling was strong, with played scenes punctuated by Bertie addressing the audience direct allowing us to know what he was thinking.

One or two of the actors allowed the pace to drop a little and there were a few longish pauses to change scenery. When there was a significant scene change the band entertained us. With the action being episodic and derived from three Wodehouse stories there was a small amount of repetition, and with many short scenes clustering together there was the occasional slight puzzle about where we were, eg. when an ironing board appeared to be in a party scene. Perhaps that was just me becoming tired after my long drive. The hot water bottle puncturing scene was particularly well handled and appreciated by the audience. This and many other very well played moments will remain in my memory and make me smile whenever I think of them.

Apparently it took writer and Common Ground Theatre Company chairman Jez Ashberry two years to win the trust of the Wodehouse Estate to allow him to write this new play. All are to be congratulated for getting this project off the ground. The world now has the Jeeves and Wooster play that Wodehouse never wrote. In the programme Mr Ashberry writes ‘the play you are watching is a world premiere, never seen before and possibly never to be seen again!' Rubbish – this will definitely be revived and ring down the ages.

There was a very enthusiastic response from the audience at the end and we skipped out humming the Bootleg Babies' songs.