Robert Daws as the celebrated Pelham Grenville Wodehouse

Wodehouse in Wonderland

Malvern Theatres


Pelham Grenville Wodehouse was a master of the light hearted, writing, in his own words, musical comedy without the music, lots and lots of musical comedy . . .

He turned out ninety books, forty plays, two hundred or so short stories and other musings, lyrics and articles between1902 and 1974; in that old much hackneyed phrase, he truly was a national treasure.

And Robert Daws brings Plum, as his family knew him, to life in this sparkling one hander from the pen of William Humble. Plum? Say Pelham quickly . . .

Holding an audience single handedly for an evening is a daunting task with only the odd shout from a wife off-stage and distant occasional barking of his two Pekinese for company, and Daws does a magnificent job.

Humble has provided some delicious lines and the delivery is masterful, a masterclass in comic timing, something that cannot be taught, with asides regularly dropped at the perfect moment, especially concerning his despair at the seriousness of the “proper” authors such as Dostoyevsky, Checkov and Ibsen.

We open with Wodehouse in his Long Island home being remodelled by his wife Ethel – think Blenheim Palace he tells us – and the adoring relationship by letter with his adopted step-daughter Snorkles, Leanora.

And then there is Mr Phillips the eager young American journalist interviewing Wodehouse for a biography, with Daws giving us both sides of the conversations.

We are introduced to some of the characters such as Bertie Wooster, Jeeves, along with Gussie Fink-Nottle, hopeless romantic Madeline Bassett and Lord Emsworth and his prize winning pig Empress – a section that could perhaps have a few slices removed as one might say in porcine terms.

There were many more he could have introduced such as the monocled old-Etonian Rupert Psmith, Smith with a silent P (as in Pshrimp) to distinguish him for other Smiths. Psmith being based on Rupert D'Oyly Carte.

The journey to the interval is like Wodehouse’s writings, light, funny, witty and elegant. But there is a darker side to the jokey, fun Wodehouse, revealed in the second act. Wodehouse had moved to France for tax reasons, not the best place to be when World War II broke out.

pg 23

P G Wodehouse in 1904 aged 23

Unable to escape they remained in Le Touquet when the Germans arrived and Wodehouse was eventually interned for a year. With a huge American market for his books the Berlin correspondent of CBS persuaded him to make some radio broadcast for the US market, which he did, six short pieces in a series entitled How to be an Internee Without Previous Training.

All helpfully recorded for CBS by German radio and broadcast in the USA in June and July 1941. And that, thought Wodehouse was that, except the German propaganda machine broadcast the CBS recordings to Britain in August exploding a storm of condemnation, accusations of treason and being a Nazi sympathizer. The furore saw Wodehouse and Ethel who had been returned by the Germans to France, leave for the USA after the war never to return.

The quintessential Englishman banished to exile, guilty of no more, according to his friend George Orwell, of stupidity. An even greater tragedy had occurred in 1944, Leanora, now 39, had undergone a minor operation and was suffering post-op bleeding.

A German V1 fell nearby overwhelming the hospital with casualties and by the time her calls for help were finally answered she was dead.

Two event that were to mark Wodehouse for life. Daws, the cheery chappy of act 1 showed equal expertise in the sadness and pathos as life fell in on Wodehouse in act II. We could feel for him, a man denied by the country he loved, still talking to a long dead daughter, yet still he banishing anger from his thoughts.

It is a brilliant performance and the world premiere promises a treat for Wodehouse fans and a wealth of knowledge for everyone covering Wodehouse’s dalliance with Hollywood and Broadway as well as the West End as a writer and lyricist, his array of unlikely, eccentric characters, along with their assorted aunts, and, beneath it all the moments of regret and sadness. We even get Daws singing Plum's lyrics to some better known tunes for shows had had a hand in.

Wodehouse was suggested for a knighthood three times and twice turned down. The third time Prime Minister Harold Wilson ignored strong advice and Wodehouse was knighted in the New Year’s honours list in January 1975 prompting The Times to remark it  was “a sign of official forgiveness for his wartime indiscretion”.

Six weeks later Sir Pelham went to hospital for a minor skin complaint and suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 93.

Directed by Robin Herford, on a splendid set from Lee Newby, beautifully lit by Jason Taylor, Wodehouse in Wonderland runs to 28-01-23 

Roger Clarke


The production will also visit Derby theatre (13-15 February) and The Albany Theatre, Coventry (28-29 April)

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