First Nighter: London's 'Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense,' 'Mojo,' 'From Here to Eternity'

London -- As popular as P. G. Wodehouse and his creations, suave manservant Jeeves and first-prize twit Bertie Wooster, have been for almost 100 years, they've apparently never toddled onto a West End stage until--wait for it!--now. At long last they've been transferred to the Duke of York's by the Goodale Brothers Robert and David in a bit of all right play. It's not, pleasant to report, the insufficient Andrew Lloyd Webber By Jeeves musical. This one's happily called Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense.

Not to put too fine a point on it--well, fine, let's put too fine a point on it--the outing is, as the title states outright, perfect nonsense. Putting a finer point on it, one might say Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense will be perfect nonsense for those, like this reviewer, who love the 11 Jeeves-Wooster novels and 30 stories as well as for those who don't know them but are discovering them in this manner.

For those familiar with the antics but don't twig to them, the Goodales' adaptation is so good that whatever you haven't cared for to date is captured grandly here, thank goodness. So for those in that forlorn camp, consider this notice fair warning.

What's wonderful about this version is that all the usual participants are included, don't you know, and played with such stamina your head will spin. Besides Jeeves (Matthew Macfadyen) and Bertie (Stephen Mangan), there are Gussie Fink-Nottle, Madeline Bassett, Aunt Dahlia, Sir Watkyn Bassett and one or two others--all of them essayed, thanks to startlingly quick costume changes (Alice Power the designer), by either Macfadyen or Mark Hadfield.

No Wodehouse advocates need be informed that the plot couldn't be more insipid, which is, needless to say, its charm. Here we have Bertie dispatched by Aunt Dahlia to purloin a silver cow creamer that she had her eyes on before Sir Watkyn Bassett bought it. There's also a spot of bother between Gussie and Madeline into the middle of which Bertie gets--with everything brought to a gleeful conclusion through Jeeves's deft machinations.

The Goodales have infinitely enhanced the undertaking by deciding Bertie has been convinced he should be recounting his (mis)adventure from a stage. Thrilled with the prospect of becoming an actor in his own story, he launches himself into the task and shortly accepts Jeeves's assistance in supplying scenery and, of course, appearing as the other figures in the diversion.

The Wodehouse novels are loved for the author's beguiling use of language. On the page, the pretzel-like twists Bertie gets into have to be imagined, of course. Here, directed with merriment by Sean Foley, they've been brought to life and are a hoot to see. Nevertheless, let's just say the piece--which might have been shortened by a few minutes, but who's counting? -- remains, as a friend of mine suggests, an idiom's delight.

Jez Butterworth's Mojo was initially produced at the Royal Court, where 39 years earlier John Osborne's Look Back in Anger changed the face of British drama. So you might say the Royal Court is the go-to establishment for angry young men, six of whom are looking back not only in anger but in fear now that Mojo is revived at the Harold Pinter.

These disgruntled fellows of 1958 hang out in one capacity or another at Ezra's Atlantic, a Dean Street club, where the hot attraction is a performer called Silver Johnny (Tom Rhys Harries) who works in a silver lamé suit. Silver Johnny is such a crowd magnet that his services are sought by rival club owner Sam Ross.

Though Sam Ross is the primary cause of the Mojo turmoil, he goes unseen by club under-manager Mickey (Brendan Coyle), hyper-nervous Potts (Daniel Mays), agitated Skinny (Colin Morgan), frightened Sweets (Rupert Grint, first-timing on stage after the Harry Potters) and nasty son of owner Baby (Ben Whishaw).

The lads fight among themselves for two acts, their contentions exacerbated by the fate that's befallen owner Ezra at the hands of Ross or his minions. Though Butterworth puts them through more two-act internecine frays than seems necessary, he keeps their tangling urgent on Ultz's two-layer set--first act in an office with several jukeboxes about, second act in the gloomy high-ceilinged downstairs room.

Along the way, there's the hint that one of these jittery pals is gaming the others, and for some viewers it may be quite easy to spot the culprit.

While the mean-streets characters aren't exactly unfamiliar (there's a flash, too, of Harold Pinter's Caretaker and David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross--note the Ross reference), they remain worth watching throughout. A good part of the reason that surely includes long-time Butterworth collaborator, director Ian Rickson: Actors love to sink their teeth into and get their mitts on these kinds of roles. With this Mojo, there's an abundance of effective teeth-sinking and mitts-grabbing.

If the music in musicals is the criterion by which an enterprise is going to be judged, then From Here to Eternity with a Tim Rice-Stuart Brayson score would have to be declared solidly mediocre.

There are a couple of rousing numbers. A Nashville ditty called "Ain't Where I Want to Be Blues" could actually become a chart item in the right circumstances. Also lively are "Fight the Fight" and "G Company Blues" (what, another blues?) and a closer about "the men of '41," referring to the Armed Forces officers and enlisted men who died or just barely lived through the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Most of the other songs are lackluster, and it's notable that Tim Rice still has great trouble writing a meaningful love song. This, of course, is a sizable problem in a situation where two torrid love stories unfold.

Yet, there's much to recommend in this From Here to Eternity, the first of which is that the Bill Oakes libretto is truer in tone to the 1951 James Jones novel than the 1953 film. The explanation: The limits on what could be filmed then and what can be depicted today have greatly changed. For instance, a sequence set in a gay bar where American soldiers rob the gay regulars during sexual encounters shows up here where it couldn't on Fred Zinnemann's '50s celluloid.

The basic story, sets and costumes by Soutra Gilmour, is the same, of course--the illicit love affair between officer-hating first sergeant MiIt Warden (Darius Campbell) and unhappy officer's wife Karen Holmes (Rebecca Thornhill), the romance between former-boxer-former-bugler private Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Robert Lonsdale) and good-hearted but cynical prostitute Lorene (Siubhan Harrison), and the tribulations of plucky but eventually broken private Angelo Maggio (Ryan Sampson).

As directed by Tamara Harvey, all performers bring the requisite grit to their assignments--Campbell singing beautifully; Lonsdale not only singing but playing guitar and, as the story demands, eventually the bugle (he seemed to be playing it and not someone near him behind a scrim); Sampson warbling with gusto and conjuring much sympathy for Maggio; Thornhill and Garrison effectively playing the disillusion experienced by women in wartime.

The hero here, however, may be choreographer Javier De Frutos. He's decided that the frustration felt by soldiers waiting to get into combat affects their entire physicality. He's staged their movement accordingly, particularly when he gets to the boxing that's G Company's pride. And the men of the From Here to Eternity chorus are more than up to the demands De Frutos puts on them.

But back to the music: It's undoubtedly impossible to set a musical in Hawaii without putting show-tune-savvy listeners in mind of South Pacific. There's really no flattering comparison here, but if this From Here to Eternity isn't Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, it's very particularly James Jones, and that's not bad.

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