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On directing PG Wodehouse's The Play’s The Thing

November 1st-5th - Moser Theatre, Wadham, Oxford

“I can detach myself from the world. If there is a better world to detach oneself from than the one functioning at the moment I have yet to hear of it.” P. G. Wodehouse

It's very much that sentiment, expressed with customary elegance by Wodehouse, that was in the back of my mind as I first read through The Play's The Thing. The world is a hard place, and in times of trouble I, like many others, find refuge in a romantic comedy. And this is a piece of theatre that serves up just such a balm to the troubled mind – uncomplicated, unpretentious, and unafraid to do just what it says on the tin.

Wodehouse, in his long career, delivered to an eager public some of the most popular comic characters ever devised: Psmith, Ukridge, Mulliner, and of course the redoubtable Jeeves and his erstwhile employer Bertie Wooster. I have, over the years, happily worked my way through most of his considerable output of novels with their dramatis personae of bread roll-flinging young gentlemen, long-suffering butlers and formidable aunts with voices like foghorns. Like other Wodehouse fans, I've revelled in his extraordinary ability to manipulate with the English language so that the most mundane remark, in his hands, becomes a nugget of comic genius. (“She fitted into my biggest arm-chair as if it had been built round her by someone who knew they were wearing arm-chairs tight about the hips that season “). But until I started working on this play I was ignorant of the fact that he had spent so much of his career writing for the stage, and collaborating on musical comedies with the likes of Cole Porter and Jerome Kern. On reflection though, the stage seems a natural place for his comic creations.

The great thing about Wodehouse's writing is that he is unafraid to create characters that are sometimes quite extreme, hilarious, larger than life, and yet with elements that are recognisable to all of us. Stock characters such as the diva, the ham actor, the sensitive young man, the avuncular man of the world all appear in The Play's The Thing and, despite their glaring personality flaws, Wodehouse manages to make them all charming. The plot – and I'm sure Wodehouse would be the first to admit it – is very straightforward. But the play also contains some postmodern touches which I found intriguing, and which lift it above the ordinary. Bringing these exuberant characters to life and making the most of Wodehouse's deliciously witty language has been tremendous fun for the cast, and for me.

If you experience just a little bit of the fun we've had while watching this play, and manage to detach yourself from the world for a little while, then we have done our job.

What ho!

Helen Taylor

Posted by Mike Taylor, Mar 2, 2012