In creating the incomparable manservant Jeeves and his feckless master, Bertie Wooster, British writer P.G. Wodehouse gave the world a glimpse, albeit it with a twist, of a once all-too-real slice of English society, now gone, never to be forgotten.
Chemainus Theatre Festival’s fall offering is Wodehouse’s ‘Jeeves Takes a Bow’, directed by CTF Artistic Director Mark DuMez. The many-talented DuMez directed the first of the now complete trilogy of Jeeves plays in 2014. The second ran the following year.
DuMez has demonstrated his outstanding talent for sophisticated comedy on several occasions over the years. The present production is fast moving, full of surprises, sudden reversals, miraculous recoveries and wonderfully conceived bits of comic business.
The play never flags or strays from its improbable premise until the last moment when the calm, cool and ever sharp-witted Jeeves saves the day. From first to last, the audience is engaged, taken in, and entranced by the zany events unfolding on the stage.
In the story, adapted for the stage by Margaret Raether, Jeeves and his master find themselves transplanted to New York in 1932. Though in Britain and the U.S. this was the depth of the depression years, no shadow of that dark time touches the life of wealthy, good-natured, if dim-witted bachelor Bertie Wooster, his friends, family and acquaintances.
Bertie’s Manhattan apartment is tastefully rendered in Set Designer Amanda Larder’s simple and elegant drawing room, strikingly reminiscent of the era. Fashions (more than just clothes) by Costume Designer CS Fergusson-Vaux are colourful, stylish, a perfect complement to the personalities of each of the half dozen players. Lighting by CTF regular Nicole Lamb and period music by Brad L’Écuyer set the tone for that time and place.
It is always a pleasure to immerse oneself in the performance of an extraordinary talent like CTF veteran Bernard Cuffling. He has graced the Chemainus stage as actor, director and inspiration on many occasions over the years.
Here, Cuffling is again the Jeeves we have enjoyed in his two previous incarnations. This is acting, voice, authority, physical presence – everything live theatre stands for. Here is a master at work. His seemingly effortless performance is the distillation of a lifetime of hard work and achievement. We are privileged to have him.
Bertie Wooster is brought to life by Kirk Smith in an energetic, goofy and sincere performance, the perfect foil for his faithful Jeeves. If there is anyone less capable of managing the challenges of everyday life, it is Bertie’s friend Binky, finely portrayed by Colin A Doyle. It would be hard to find a comic duo better matched than these two, unless it is Bertie and Jeeves.
The two women who intrude upon, harass and complicate the lives of the two anti-heroes, are played by Kate Dion-Richard as Vivienne Duckworth, upper crust British writer and sometime fiancée of Bertie; and Robyn Wallis as crass, noisy and ambitious consummate Brooklynite Ruby LeRoy. Both are wonderful. The loose cannon in the mix is played by Declan O’Reilly as big, scary, but ultimately soft-centred, ‘Knuckles’ McCann.
As we left the theatre amid a smiling, still chuckling and admiring audience, the accolades and recounting of great lines were all around us. This is outstanding entertainment, suitable for young and old, veteran theatre-goers and newcomers alike. The summer musical may have been a record-breaking success, ‘Jeeves Takes a Bow’ is a triumph.
The show will run until Saturday, September 30.
Tom Masters is a writer and a resident of Chemainus.