WODEHOUSE IN WONDERLAND
NORTHCOTT THEATRE EXETER
BOX OFFICE 01392 726363
RUNNING TIME – 1 HOUR 50 MINUTES – 1 INTERVAL
24 FEBRUARY 2023
Let me just say from the outset that for any actor to hold the audience’s attention and to entertain them royally, to make them laugh and to move them for 90 minutes, all alone, is something to be deeply admired and in this thoroughly entertaining play, Robert Daws is simply outstanding.
The story of the great comic writer, P G Wodehouse, has been beautifully realised into a script of elegance and wit by William Humble who uses the device of letter writing and discussions with an irritating biographer to get over glimpses of an extraordinary life; some of which audience members may have known and other aspects, possibly not.
Daws’s performance is just that, there is no intent on impersonation – he isn’t quite the same stature as Wodehouse – but he brings a warmth, a charm and an abundance of bonhomie to the role and takes Humble’s words and makes them sparkle. Set in the late 1950s at Wodehouse’s home in Long Island, New York State, we are regaled with stories, anecdotes and, indeed, songs; Wodehouse was a busy lyricist who worked with the likes of Ivor Novello, George Gershwin and Cole Porter. Daws has such an easy manner and a very appropriate singing voice for the songs; the whole piece has a wonderfully comforting old-fashioned feel to it. While a knowledge of some of the writings of the great man is not a necessity, it may help, as Daws brings many to life; Jeeves, Wooster, Lord Emsworth et al.
At a tantalising stage in one of the books he is writing, he writes to his daughter Leonora – his beloved ‘Snorky’ – whom he uses as his sounding board for his plots and jokes – he needs her sound advice on the matter of hats and feathers! Meanwhile a ‘Mr Philips’ is dead set on writing a definitive biography and manages to coax some truths and confessions from Wodehouse. Whilst the first half of the play is light and frothy, the second moves to darker areas and this is where the work of Humble is so effective. There needs to be some drama or the piece just doesn’t go anywhere; so we hear about his virtual exile from England following the ill-advised broadcasts he gave to German radio and then he relates a tragic loss which stuns the audience into a rigour of silence. Daws has everyone in the palm of his hand and his perfectly modulated regret and grief are models of understated but powerful acting.
As Wodehouse was pilloried by many friends and establishment figures, so we are offered his own defence to the accusations of treachery following the Second World War – it is for us to look into it further should we wish to.
But the mirth soon returns and with offstage contributions from his adored wife Bunny and his two Pekinese pet dogs, we are served up a cocktail of delights from beginning to end.
A light touch to the tiller is what is required of a director here and Robin Herford fills the brief perfectly by allowing the words to speak for themselves and allowing his actor to act on a comforting and comfortable set which suits the piece to a tee.
Theatrical entertainment comes in many sizes, from the big brash musical to the well-crafted little gem – this is one such and it is commanded by a performance which is like a hamper full of goodies. A complete delight.
CAST & CREATIVES
P G WODEHOUSE – ROBERT DAWS
WRITER – WILLIAM HUMBLE
DIRECTOR – ROBIN HERFORD
SET & COSTUME DESIGN – LEE NEWBY
LIGHTING DESIGN – JASON TAYLOR
SOUND DESIGN – HUW JONES
IMAGE – PAMELA RAITH PHOTOGRAPHY
A CHAOOTS THEATRE COMPANY PRODUCTION