By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Wooster Sauce (Stage 14, Holy Trinity Anglican Church)
“Now, touching this business of old Jeeves — my man, you know….”
With this, Fringe veteran John D. Huston — in just the sort of spiffing white dinner jacket that’s theatre code for vintage satire — revives the double-sided stage portrait he brought to Edmonton in 2008.
In Wooster Sauce, fashioned by playwright Kenneth Brown from two stories by P.G. Wodehouse, Huston plays both halves of an iconic Brit tandem. He’s clueless upper-class slacker Bertie Wooster and Bertie’s matchless valet Reginald Jeeves, the sublimely capable “gentleman’s personal gentleman” who takes charge of his employer’s life and extricates him from every scrape.
In Jeeves Takes Charge, Bertie recalls the mysterious arrival of the indispensable Jeeves: he “floated noiselessly through the door like a healing zephyr,” provides a life-saving hang-over elixir, and pries Bertie out of his engagement to the formidable Lady Florence Craye, who’s assigned him Types of Ethical Theory to read, with future plans for Nietzsche. Egads. The joint complications of Bertie’s uncle’s scandalous memoirs and a dinner jacket in “a rather sprightly young check” are dispatched with ease by Jeeves.
Bertie Changes His Mind, a rare example of a Wodehouse story told in Jeeves’ voice, is an escapade stage-managed by the estimable valet to get Bertie cornered into a “chance” engagement doing a spot of public speaking in a snooty girls’ school.
The droll stories have a daffy way of aerating the English idiom whilst putting a well-polished boot into the backside of the British class system. In this production, which is a matter of telling rather than doing, the fun is in Huston’s vocal quick-changes, from the fluting plumminess of Bertie to the more sepulchral gravitas of Jeeves who rolls his vowels like a man ascertaining whether to swallow an oyster.
It is, of course, entirely possible that Wodehouse is an acquired English taste, like Branston pickle or Marmite, odd but distinctive. But this is a pleasant, untaxing sort of Fringe enterprise. As Bertie would say, it’s easy to “suck down a cheerful morsel.”
As seen at the Winnipeg Fringe.