JEEVES might be the very picture of the unflappable British manservant, but for Joseph Chance, the actor who plays him in the touring version of the West End hit, Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense, things are far from as calm as they appear.
"There are only three of us on-stage and there is so much you have to do in it," Chance said.
"Jeeves has to play a woman on a number of occasions, and while they are great fun to play, getting into costume is hard work. I go backstage and am occasionally grabbed by a pair of hands and thrown back on stage. I open my mouth and just hope the right character comes out."
Such are the demands of the role that a previous Jeeves, Scottish actor John Gordon Sinclair, claims to have dropped a stone playing the part — and that if it had gone on any longer, it would have killed him.
Possibly even making matters worse, Matthew Carter, who plays Bertie Wooster, stays true to creator P.G. Wodehouse’s "mentally negligible" member of the idle rich, by not having nearly as hectic a time as his devoted manservant.
"It’s bad enough that I have to watch Bertie," Chance laughed.
"He doesn’t have to move any of the scenery or do many quick changes and the quick changes he does are all part of the action whereas backstage me and Bobby (Goodale) are running around like lunatics."
In addition to being the Olivier Award nominated show’s third actor as — primarily at least — the ancient butler Seppings, Robert Goodale co-wrote the show with his brother David, basing it on Wodehouse’s 1938 novel The Code of The Woosters.
"Bobby obviously knows the play immensely well — he’s performed it over 150 times. Matthew joined it in the third incarnation, so he knows it well, although bizarrely he understudied for Jeeves at one stage as well," Chance said.
"Then I came in with three weeks to learn the lines while they knew every single word of what they were doing."
Chance has at least seen the show a few times with Matthew Macfadyen and Stephen Mangan playing Jeeves and Wooster, but had barely read any Wodehouse before taking on the role, something he had since rectified.
"It’s a world that is gone and most of us are glad it is because it was an elitist world, but there is something about laughing at those people and loving them as well," Chance said.
"The curious thing is Wodehouse is in that world, but undermines it all the time with this notion that Jeeves is always the one that gets things sorted."
In taking on his role as one half of one of British literature’s greatest double acts, Chance revealed he had been helped by advice by one of his best known predecessors, Stephen Fry, who played Jeeves alongside Hugh Laurie’s Bertie Wooster in a 1990s television series.
"He said an interesting thing, that the secret is the rhythm of the way Wodehouse writes," Chance explained.
"There seems to be this little chemistry in the language. This guy is timelessly funny."
Chance, whose next stop on the tour is his grandmother’s home town of Dundee, admits that he is not quite as quietly efficient as Jeeves, or at least, not as much as he would like to be.
"I would dearly love to say that’s a part of me, but in some sort of inverse response, the more the tour goes on, the more I become disorganised," he confessed.
"But he’s there in me somewhere and I’m fairly sure my parents would like him to stick around a bit."
• Joseph Chance appears as Jeeves in Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense at the Empire Theatre, Eden Court from Friday 6th to Sunday 8th November at 7.30pm with a 1.30pn Saturday matinee.