Palatinate’s Amy Price talks to Imo Rolf, Ryan West, Matthew Elliot- Ripley and Jake Goldman: the directors, producer and protagonist of Ooks! upcoming production of ‘Come on Jeeves’.
Would you say that Ooook! has a specific type of theatre that it deals with?
Imo Rolfe: We’re best known for is the witty comedy, with ensemble casts, creative uses of set and effects, and a general appreciation for quintessentially British humour. The company was founded in order to bring the stories of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld to the stage, so we tend to draw upon the styles of comedy and storytelling, which make his novels so special; wit, satire and a healthy appreciation for the fantastical and surreal. If you were to summarise us in five words it would be ‘Making people laugh for charity’.
What would you say has been your most well-received performance to date?
IR: We have received consistently good feedback and audience attendance for our most recent DiscWorld plays. For Lords and Ladies we had several emails from the general public saying how much they loved the show, which was the best feedback we could hope for. Having said that, many people I talk to keep bringing up Importance of Being Earnest, which we put on this time last year. Lots of people remember it, it had great reviews and received a fair few D’Oscar nominations. So it could be that one…we’ll just have to wait and see how Jeeves goes!
It’s not as well known as The Importance of Being Earnest: what kind of things is it comparable to as a play?
Ryan West: I would say that in many respects Jeeves is quite similar to Earnest; the wit, jest and fun are all still there. However, Jeeves is much more grounded in an emotional reality that we’ve been really keen to explore throughout the process. It acts as a counterbalance to the more farcical elements, and whereas Earnest was precisely about the superficiality of the era and the clichés associated with that time. In terms of similarities to other plays, Jeeves is quite difficult to define, as it is many different things at the same time. If I had to compare it to another play I would suggest Relative Values by Noël Coward.
Have there been any major challenges with putting the production together?
IR: ‘Come On, Jeeves’ has a pretty eccentric and farcical plot, so as a Producer I’ve had a lot of weird and wacky props and costumes to source – vintage radios, Victorian farthingales and assorted psychic paraphernalia to name just a few! On top of that there have been all the usual challenges of getting large numbers of people organised and co-ordinated to allow rehearsals and publicity to go ahead smoothly. Oh, and let’s not forget the dog.
Are you doing anything unusual with the show, or are you hoping to do justice to the script as it is?
RW: We have worked hard on characterisation and physicality so that the characters feel as real and defined as possible, without being stereotypes. Jeeves has been the most difficult character to work with because he is incredibly professional yet also has a great sense of wit and is rather pithy at points, whilst maintaining his butler’s image.
As the character of Jeeves has been previously played by Stephen Fry, a British icon, is there a pressure to perform in a certain way? Or are you trying to take it beyond the stereotypes?
Jake Goldman: I think it would be arrogant of me to put myself in the league of Fry and Laurie. I found Stephen Fry’s Jeeves quite a useful starting point if only to look at the Wodehousian context, which the show Jeeves and Wooster got spot on. But I was not pressured. The directors gave me a lot of scope to look at Jeeves’ different sides; Jeeves is always a professional, but we occasionally see his haughtiness or intelligent witticisms come out in an endearing snobbery. His stereotype – the ever-present solver of the aristocracy’s problems – is only a part of what we’ve tried to achieve!
Is there an underlying morality to the comedy? Or is it simply about entertainment?
IR: The show is full of set-pieces and situations which by themselves are incredibly funny, and the script is full of one-liners which have the staying power be said or performed independently from the play as a whole. However, the context of the story in which the jokes occur gives them an added dimension of satire and moral intrigue. This story is part of Wodehouse’s tapestry of English caricature (and in this play, their trans-Atlantic relations), which is lovingly satirised but told through poignant irony. The aristocracy’s incompetence endearingly contrasts with the dignity and intelligence of Jeeves and Jill Wyvern; it is striking, and feels remarkably relevant. Having said that, if you want to go to the theatre and just want a good laugh, this will give you a laugh.
Should the audience have any expectations before they arrive?
IR: Prepare yourselves for cunning disguises, outrageous drunken flirting, questionable vocal exercises and a fierce devotion to Harrods.
Favourite quote from the show?
IR: “As we say out East, ‘I could wear a topee and walk under a duck.’”
RW: “Poorly informed as I am on the subject, I do not believe that rhinoceri are equipped with number plates.”
Matthew Elliot-Ripley: “He’ll vanish into the jungle with his sex-starved daughter and his ill-gotten gains…just like Doctor Livingstone”
You can view the trailer for the show here: https://vimeo.com/110352912
Image: Imo Rolf