Interview: Jeeves & Wooster’s James Lance & Robert Goodale

James Lance and Robert Goodale are currently starring as Bertie Wooster and Seppings in Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense at the Duke of York's Theatre. The show also stars John Gordon Sinclair as Jeeves.

Robert co-wrote the show with his brother David Goodale. Perfect Nonsense is based on and adapted from the established literary works of P.G. Wodehouse. The play won Best New Comedy at the 2014 Olivier Awards.

James and Robert speak to London Theatre Direct about taking on such iconic roles, why they’re having so much fun in the show and the secret to its success…

​​Are you enjoying your West End run?
James Lance: It has been great! The audiences have just been lovely, haven’t they?

Robert Goodale: They have! They’ve been fantastic.

JL: It has certainly encouraged us and spurred us on to be even sillier. We’re definitely settled!

RG: Our first preview was a riot, we had everything that’s supposed to go wrong go wrong, plus a lot of other things! The audience were absolutely hysterical, and then they were pretty good on press night too. We realised that we needed to rein things in a bit and get it right [laughs].

​​James, had you seen the show before you were cast?
JL: Yes! Initially I thought it looked like a lot of hard work [laughs], but of course it is really worth it. It’s just very funny and – as you know - Bertie Wooster is such an iconic comedy character which is something I’ve never been offered before. I like nothing more than being a part of a team that makes people laugh, it’s the loveliest feeling. The joy we feel from the audience at the end of the show is just delightful! It’s a treat but, like anything worth something in life, it has its challenges. Sustaining and refining your performance is a big part of the challenge.

​​You rarely leave the stage!
JL: Yes, and when we do we’re not having a cup of tea…

RG: We’re mopping our brows and changing costume!

JL: …and trying not to look so sweaty!

​​Robert, how did your casting come about? You weren’t in the original cast, but when writing it did part of you want to play Steppings?
RG: To be honest yes I did… but it would have been absolutely appalling if I had been in the original cast. I do not know what I would have done because everything would have been compromised. When we rehearsed the show I didn’t realise Sean (Foley, the director) was going to do ‘this and that’ with the script. If things didn’t work they were changed so every day he set David – who is my brother – and me different tasks to do. Even during the first shows in Richmond I was backstage rewriting the whole script for the cast to relearn. I have two different modes and I can’t immediately switch from actor mode to writer mode. I have to focus on one or the other so it worked out perfectly that I wasn’t in the first cast and that I have been able to come into the show now. Plus, I couldn’t be working with two more wonderfully brilliant people!

​​How do you go about approaching such iconic roles? Are you able to put your own stamp or them?
JL: Personally I didn’t come into rehearsals thinking ‘oh I have to put my own stamp on it’. The thing is you know there are other people who have played Bertie, predominantly Hugh Laurie who I grew up watching. They have all given amazing performances so it is a little bit daunting at first. As soon as I got started and got into the material I fell in love with Bertie again from the writing – not because of other people’s performances. I just adore his innocence! It’s really nice to play someone who is basically a five year old [laughs]!

​​Is it nice to be part of such a small company? There are only three of you!
JL: It means we get paid reasonably decently [both laugh]!

​​And you get your own dressing rooms!
JL: Exactly! Not just a corner!

RG: There are about twelve characters in the show so if there was a person playing each character there would be four or five of us in each dressing room!

JL: It’s great because we all get along really well which makes it a lot easier.

​​The show originally opened for a limited run but has extended multiple times due to its huge response from audiences. What is the secret to its success?
RG: I think if it had just been straight Wodehouse it wouldn’t have had such wide appeal. It’s very interesting because – without sounding pretentious - a lot of people have said it delves into so many different aspects of theatre and almost goes back to the roots of theatre because the fourth wall is broken and the audience become very much part of it. People seem to absolutely love that!

JL: It’s an incredibly inclusive show! I think it works so well because it beautifully emphasises the silliness within the writing. It’s pushed up to the max! I think that may be one of the main reasons as to why people love Jeeves and Wooster so much – it is joyfully silly!

​​It’s total escapism!
JL: Exactly! It’s just such a fun show to do. We never know how the audience are going to react and, to be perfectly honest, we never know how we’re going to react either!

​​Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins

Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense tickets are available for the Duke of York’s Theatre for the booking period until Saturday 20th September 2014.

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