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Theatre / By Jeeves

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In 1975, Alan Ayckbourn and Andrew Lloyd Weber produced a musical, Jeeves,, based on the works of P.G. Wodehouse about the eponymous valet and his hapless master Bertie Wooster, that only ran for about a month and stands as Weber's one and only flop. Its central point of failure was that it was about four hours long and much too complicated. In 1996, Ayckbourn and Weber revisited the play, pared it down considerably, wrote mostly new music for it, and retitled it By Jeeves. In its new, simpler incarnation, By Jeeves was considerably more successful.

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The play finds Bertie Wooster ostensibly giving a banjo concert at a church fundraiser—but he gets to the point of launching into song when it turns out someone has stolen his banjo and replaced it with a frying pan. Faced with having to entertain the audience for two hours before a replacement banjo can arrive, Wooster has no choice but to put on a show by reminiscing about one of his adventures—with the able assistance of stage manager Jeeves, who remembers those events much better than he does and has roped the church's staff into taking on the roles of Bertie's acquaintances as they play out the events that transpired.

An American production of the play was filmed in 2001 and released on region 2 DVD, starring Martin Jarvis as Jeeves.

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Tropes Include:

  • Adaptational Jerkass: Compared to his classic portrayal, Jeeves is notably pettier and more willing to undermine or outright humiliate Bertie for his own benefit (or just for petty revenge). Wodehouse's Jeeves might be all too willing to let his master suffer a few knocks if it suited his plans, but he never deliberately set out to make things worse for him, or outright mock him like he does in this musical.
  • Adorkable: Harold "Stinker" Pinker, the only character other than Bertie and Jeeves who portrays himself in the impromptu show. Like in the books, he's a well-meaning Klutz, but here he also has a bit of a surprisingly endearing awkwardness to him, as it's pretty clear he's not prepared for any of this. Already before the show starts, he bungles the opening speech while accidentally breaking a chair.
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  • Deadpan Snarker: Jeeves himself, and as part of being an Adaptational Jerkass it's to an extent Wodehouse would probably not have countenanced. Jeeves makes several quips to the audience at Bertie's expense, which Wodehouse would never have had him do.
  • Mean Character, Nice Actor: In-universe example, as most of the characters are played by the church's staff, who are on the whole far more amiable and reasonable than the people they're portraying (even though some of them occasionally get a little carried away with their roles). Special mention must go to Sir Watkyn-Basset, who is played by the amiable Bernard "Bumpy" Baisley. Early in the show, Bertie even breaks character a couple of times to comment on this and praise his portrayal... whereupon Bumpy also breaks character to humbly thank him before continuing his act.
  • Lampshade Hanging: At one point Bertie remarks on how complicated the story has gotten, and Jeeves replies that they've actually simplified it considerably. This is true, both in regard to the play's earlier incarnation and to the Wodehouse book it's based on—they cut out many characters and an entire subplot to fit it into just two hours.
  • Let's Put on a Show!: Possibly one of the most literal invocations of the trope. Bertie has no choice but to put on a show—or, more accurately, take part in the show Jeeves is putting on. He does this more by improv role-playing himself than by intentionally reproducing what he actually did at the time, because his memory is terrible.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: The song "What Have You Got To Say, Jeeves?" is a very passionate instance of this trope, as Bertie's finally had enough and calls Jeeves out on how unhelpful he's being.

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