p g wodehosue drby

Robert Daws as P G Wodehouse

Wodehouse in Wonderland

Derby Theatre


Touring theatrical companies are having a tough time as costs escalate everywhere. This production by the Cahoots theatre Company, has the answer, reduce your company to one.

Robert Daws brings Wodehouse in Wonderland to Derby in a one-hander which tells the extraordinary tale of Wodehouse’s life , exploiting his canon of writing, which was amongst the most prolific of the 20th century. The script was prepared by William Humble, providing Daws with numerous amusing apercus.

The play unfolds at PG Wodehouse’s home in Long Island, New York state, on a single stage set, in the late 1950s, for good reason. He was living in exile there. A vista of a beautiful garden lies beyond, with lighting effects marking time by gradually changing and dimming from day to night.

My parents and grandparents generation had a jaundiced opinion of Wodehouse. They saw him as a German collaborator in World War II.

In the early 1930s Wodehouse was earning more than £100,000 a year from his writing, playing fast and loose with the taxman by dividing his time between England, America and a home in le Touquet France.

He was living in France in the 1940s when the Nazis occupied the country and he was sent to Berlin for internment. He was persuaded by his captors to make a series of broadcasts for the USA market on German radio How to be an Internee without previous training. It became a cause celebre in the British press with divided opinion.

He had a penchant for luxury hotels. He was “interned” for a time in the prestigious Hotel Llardon in Berlin at his expense and lived in the Hotel Bristol in Paris when the allied bombing of Berlin became too intense, all paid for from a German bank account holding the proceeds of his book sales.

At the outbreak of the Second World War he was still earning £40,000 a year from his work. In May 1909 Wodehouse on a visit to New York, sold two short stories to Cosmopolitan and Collier's for a total of $500. He was a very wealthy man.

The retrospective consensus was that he had been ill- advised rather than treasonous in his broadcasts , but there was support for the Nazis amongst the English Upper classes to which Wodehouse, aka Plum (a contraction of his first name Pelham), unquestionably belonged. The extent to which the establishment closed ranks behind one of their own is unclear.

Daws has his work cut out as a solo performer using extracts from novels and lyrics in musical interludes from the likes of George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Ivor Novello. Wodehouse also wrote plays and contributed lyrics to 25 musicals including the lyrics for You’re the Top for the British version of Anything Goes. At one point, Wodehouse had five shows running simultaneously on Broadway and referred to his novels as “musical comedies without music”.

Wodehouse wrote more than 70 novels and 200 short stories, creating numerous iconic characters. Jeeves and Wooster, Lord Emsworth , the Empress of Blandings, Mr Mulliner, Ukridge, and Psmith all feature in the show. Daws portrays Wodehouse primarily as a comic poet, but sometimes the relentless flippancy becomes wearing and tedious.

Dramatic devices to ease the pressure on Daws include off-stage conversations with his wife, letters to his step-daughter, interviews with his would-be biographer and conversations with his two Pekingese dogs.

It is an evening of Wodehouse’s world, divided into two halves of around 50 and 45 minutes, comprising gentle wit and humour framed within a helpful biographical context. It is quintessentially English, and somewhat archaic, so much so that I expected Jacob Rees Mogg to appear at any moment. As a one man show, the production succeeds as an homage to one of England’s most prolific authors, Daws' consummate performance "cracks it through the covers", and plays at Derby until the 15th before continuing on nationwide tour.

Gary Longden


Index page Derby Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre