by Margaret Chrystall
IT should be tough to cast the actors playing Jeeves and Wooster so you get that crucial smart versus scatty balance just right.
But long before the latest tour of the Olivier award-winning stage play Perfect Nonsense, Matthew Carter who plays P G Wodehouse’s super-spiffing hero Bertie Wooster met his perfect Jeeves in a Chance meeting.
Matthew and actor Joseph Chance – who plays Bertie’s slick valet and constant rescuer Jeeves — come to Eden Court on Friday (Nov 6) for three days of shows involving classic Wodehouse country house comedy involving silver cow creamers, seven foot fascists, missing notebooks, scary aunts and marauding would-be finacees.
But, as Matthew explained, he met Joseph long before the two had a clue they’d end up sharing a stage.
Matthew said: "The first time we met was in June at a play reading organised by the brothers behind Perfect Nonsense, Robert and David Goodale.
"They had written a new piece, got some actors together to read for it and that’s when I met Joseph.
"But I didn’t know he was going to be playing Jeeves then — and neither did he! Since then I think we’ve become friends."
Robert Goodale, now plays Steppings in the show, but wrote and performed the original one-man show that first sparked the idea for Perfect Nonsense. That came from the 80s when Robert with his late twin and a friend, post-drinking sessions would be fuelled by trading PG Wodehouse quotes.
Robert says: "Later when I was trying to think of a one-man show to do, that came back to me and I wondered had it been the whisky or the Wodehouse that made us laugh?"
Twenty years on the show evolved into a West End hit which won an Olivier Award last year for best new comedy.
Robert confesses he didn’t think they would win.
"Mainly because of where we had been seated at the ceremony," he laughed. "We were right at the back and it just looked like an obstacle course to get to the stage from where we were!
"But in my acceptance speech, I recalled stepping in to cover when one of the actors couldn’t perform and a lady in the audiencde excitedly telling her husbnad "The writers’s on instead!’ and her husband saying ‘What? PG Wodehouse?’.
"For me that said it all.
"My brother and me had adapted PG Wodehouse, so, yes, PG Wodehouse was getting the award, Sean Foley got it for his direction, Anna for her fantastic set and the actors Stephen Mangan and Matthew MacFadyen who kicked us off with the show were ALL getting the award!"
Robert explained that Matthew Carter had been picked to play Bertie in the current tour because he "is the real thing".
"It has to be someone who plays the truth, is naturally lovable and incnocent — and Matthew has all of those qualities.
Travelling up, "Bertie" and "Jeeves" are coming to Inverness by sleeper train.
So will Joseph be adopting the valet’s role to take care of Bertie/Matthew?
Unlikely, Matthew laughs.
For him, visiting Inverness is a first.
And it will also be a first when Perfect Nonsense makes its debut in India in January.
"On January 5 we go to India which will be very exciting and we’re going to Mumbai and Bangalore," said Matthew.
"I think it will be very interesting to see how it will go down – apparently PG Wodehouse is very popular there."
But as Matthew has discovered taking a look at the crowds coming along for a taste of the retro comedy, Wodehouse fans come in many ages.
"In places like Worthing you think it is going to be people like retired colonels — and generally people in the matinees tend to be a bit older.
"But we have a lot of people in their 30s, 40s and 50s."
Matthew also relishes the opportunity to play the sometimes simple-seeming Wooster in this play, where it’s Bertie who is telling the story and putting the play together — with a little bit of help from Jeeves and fellow valet Steppings with everything else, from providing props and scenery to playing all the other characters
"He is very loyal and I suppose I like Bertie’s childlike quality which I think is very endearing — otherwise he’s a bit of an idiot. What stops that becoming annoying, I think, is his innocence, so you forgive him.
"Jeeves will always come to the rescue."
"It’s such a physical piece as well. Apart from me — I just play Bertie — but Joseph and Robert are playing lots of different characters as well.
"With this piece, the audience feedback is immediate and you get the laughs."
Matthew’s route to playing Bertie has taken him through classics such as The Mousetrap for 11 months, three different roles in The Bill, a set of comedies in Vienna and as Donny Osmond in a play set in Wales by Sara Silverman.
"Being in this has been my favourite thing I’ve done so far," revealed Matthew.
Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense at Eden Court from Friday, November 6 for three days with a Saturday matinee at 1.30pm