Technical difficulties delayed the start of the press viewing of this breezy little show by half an hour – the time it took, perhaps, for Jeeves to come up with an ingenious solution. The delay rather suited this 1996 musical by Alan Ayckbourn and Andrew Lloyd Webber (reworking the less-than-successful 1975 version) which is driven by scrapes, bungles and near-misses.
A show within a show, it begins with the promise of a banjo concert given by Bertie Wooster to raise funds for the church. But his banjo has mysteriously vanished and the ever-resourceful Jeeves suggests that Bertie enacts one of his famous escapades instead. So we are treated to a rough-and-ready account (inspired by PG Wodehouse’s stories) of the frightful mess Bertie ends up in when he ends up engaged to one girl, wooing another, pursued by a third, trapped in a maze, apprehended as a burglar and fighting off a furious father and an assortment of wild-eyed rivals.
It is an OK wheeze, but takes rather too long to get out of first gear and the set-up is pretty laboured. The musical numbers are pleasantly jaunty, however, and delivered well here by an onstage four-piece band. Gradually, the daftness and the charm of the performers in Nick Bagnall’s good-natured, compact production break down your defences.
Kevin Trainor makes an amiable Bertie, all bright-eyed idiocy, his effusive energy nicely complemented by Paul M Meston’s taciturn Jeeves. Tim Hudson booms away as the draconian Sir Watkyn Bassett, David Menkin is splendidly brash as a visiting American magnate, and Charlotte Mills and Andrew Pepper are enjoyable as the forceful Honoria Glossop and the gawky Gussie Fink-Nottle. There is some droll choreography from Andrew Wright, with the cast portraying tap-dancing shrubbery and relishing the comic friction between the slick demands of musical convention and the supposed ineptitude of the amateur performers. A genial enough evening, ending with a witty finale and a delectable drum solo from Jeeves.