Prepare for charming nonsense when double act Jeeves & Wooster take to the stage in the region. Katy Wheeler spoke to actor James Lance about bringing the classic characters to life.
Comic capers galore – that’s the promise from Perfect Nonsense, which lifts Jeeves & Wooster from the pages of PG Wodehouse’s novels.
Breathing new life into the double act are James Lance as the charmingly incompetent aristocrat Bertie Wooster and John Gordon Sinclair as his dutiful, unflappable and ever well-informed valet Jeeves.
After picking up an Olivier Award for Best New Comedy during its West End run, the new play, which is adapted from the short stories and novels of PG Wodehouse by brothers Robert and David Goodale, is being performed in Newcastle next week.
“People can expect a romp, a farce, and hopefully plenty of laughs,” said James who is well-known for roles in TV comedy series including Teachers, The Book Group, Smack the Pony and I’m Alan Partridge.
Speaking about preparing for the role of the dim, but loveable, Bertie, he said: “I was a fan of the show with Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry when I was younger and started reading the novellas, dipping into them was a great way of accessing Bertie.”
James’s stage sparring partner is John Gordon Sinclair, who shot to fame playing Gregory in Bill Forsyth’s iconic 1981 film Gregory’s Girl.
“The characters are really good fun to play,” said James. “John and I had never met before. We were thrown in at the deep end. It’s a very intense relationship between the characters and when we first got our lines, we looked at each other with panic on our faces.
“It’s a riot being on stage though, especially once the audience gets going, which is pretty much straight away. It’s a real buzz being in it, it’s fast-paced and whips along, it’s like a runaway train.
“I’m loving playing Bertie, he’s a hoot. I knew a bit about him before, but once I started reading the books I fell in love with him. He wears his heart on his sleeve.
“He’s very human, with plenty of flaws. I like his enthusiasm for life and having a good time.” The stage adaptation is centred around a country house weekend which takes a turn for the worse and Bertie Wooster is unwittingly called on to play matchmaker, but also to steal a silver cow creamer from Totleigh Towers.
Naturally, the ever dependable Jeeves is there to prevent Bertie from making a fool of himself in front of a cast of Wodehouse’s finest characters.
An evening of raucous comedy unfolds in the company of Gussie Fink-Nottle, Madeline Bassett, Sir Watkin Bassett, Dahlia Travers, Roderick Spode and Constable Oates.
Co-writer Robert Goodale plays the part of Seppings.
Like many siblings growing up together, writers Robert and David Goodale enjoyed their own, very particular brand of humour. As children they created a range of ridiculous characters that evolved into members of their extended family.
It was only later that they discovered that PG Wodehouse had beaten them to it, in creating a world full of even more deliciously bonkers characters.
As adults, Robert became an actor, while David pursued a career as a documentary filmmaker, but both remained committed to making people laugh.
Two years ago they were encouraged to combine their comic talents to adapt PG Wodehouse’s The Code of the Woosters for the stage. They finally put pen to paper, and several drafts later, with the blessing of the Wodehouse Estate, Perfect Nonsense was born.
James, who has also appeared on screen in films such as Marie Antoinette, directed by Sofia Coppola, and Bel Ami, which starred Robert Pattinson, said: “Yes, I am more known for screen work, but I’m really enjoying being on stage. It’s a very different experience because of the live element. It’s quite a different discipline, the show must always go on.
“Maybe I’m just a really funny guy,” he quips, when asked why the majority of his roles are comic. “I don’t know why it is, I seem to be more drawn to that.”
Next week’s run will be a return to the North East for James who spent two months filming Estranged, a dark comedy due for release later in the year, at The Lambton Estate near Bournmoor.
“I filmed for two months on the Lambton Estate, which I loved,” he said. “I could get used to being up there. It’s so quiet and gorgeous.” •Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense appears at Newcastle Theatre Royal, from Tuesday until October 18.
Tickets are priced from £13 (a booking fee of 95p - £1.95 will apply to most tickets) and can be bought from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 08448 112121 or select your own seat and book online at www.theatreroyal.co.uk.
•We’ve teamed up with Theatre Royal to give away a pair of tickets for Perfect Nonsense on opening night on Tuesday.
To be in with a chance of winning, answer this question: who played Jeeves and Wooster in the 90s TV show?
A) Fry and Laurie
B) Hale and Pace
C) Cannon and Ball
Email your answer to Katy.Wheeler@jpress.co.uk.
Closing date: Monday.