As another week of lockdown passes, another show is streamed online. Each week we are treated to an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical for free on YouTube, and after shows such as Joseph and the amazing technicolor dreamcoat and Phantom of the Opera, I think that quite a few people were surprised when it was announced that the much lesser known musical By Jeeves would be the next show to be streamed. Based on a series of short stories and novels by P.G Wodehouse and with a book by Alan Ayckbourn, along with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, I was hoping for good things, but sadly it didn’t quite meet expectations.
Filmed live in Pittsburgh in 2001, this production of By Jeeves starred John Scherer as Bertie Wooster and Martin Jervis as Jeeves and featured the audience in full costume, which was pretty odd to see. I guess that you can call this a show within a show with the whole plot revolving around the fact that a show has to be put on to entertain the audience in a hurry. It begins as a one man show with Bertie Wooster planning to play his banjo for a paying audience, but when the banjo goes missing, it’s up to Jeeves and Wooster to create a show out of one of their unfortunate adventures in order to keep the audience happy.
With limited access to props or costumes for their show, it’s up to Jeeves to keep everything moving along and in control, even with Wooster wanting to take the lead. Whilst this sounds like it could be quite a funny concept, for me, it falls a little flat. The best moment of making a set piece out of bits and bobs comes very early in the show, meaning that everything after it just isn’t as impressive. As for the story they are trying to tell, I couldn’t help but feel that I had seen it all before. Multiple cases of mistaken identity, trying a please a girl’s father, people falling in love with the wrong people, it’s all a bit of a cliche and makes the show feel awfully dated.
Music is used throughout to move the story forwards and add some depth to the characters, and some of the songs are lovely, especially the act two duet between Stiffy (Emily Loesser) and Harold (Ian Knauer) ‘Half A Moment’, but personally I would have liked to see more of the music and less of the repetitive narrative. The songs fit well into the story and are well performed, even if they did come across as rather old fashioned in places.
The whole look of the show, including the wooden set and the audience in costume, makes the show look amateurish in my opinion and whilst the cast do very well with what they are given, they are not given an awful lot to work with. Through it’s entire 2 hours and 20 minutes run time, I don’t recall laughing once, and for a show billed as a farce, that can’t be a good sign. I’ll admit that I’ve never actually watched any Jeeves and Wooster before, so many the comedy was a little bit lost on me, but who knows. Maybe that wasn’t very funny either.
It’s not that hard to see why By Jeeves wasn’t a massive hit. It did well enough, but it wasn’t exactly a blockbuster. Its dated appearance and nothing new narrative falls flat even when you can see that the cast are giving it their absolute all. It’s a shame because you can see that it could work, but I don’t see if ever selling out bigger grander theatres.