Wodehouse In Wonderland review: Comedy? Musical? Tragedy? Children’s programme?

Showered with light-hearted humour, this witty dramatisation of Wodehouse’s life jumbles together literature, theatre and a dash of musicality whilst being sneakily educational.

Wodehouse In Wonderland review: Comedy? Musical? Tragedy? Children’s programme?

Written by William Humble, this one-man show takes place where the works of the one of the most popular humourists of the 20th century originated, in Long Island, New York. Well, more precisely, in his study. The set is attractive and homely with every little detail diligently thought out, from the brimming bookshelf and authentic typewriter, to the subtler features like the picture frames on the endearingly floral wallpaper, coupled with cosy reading lamps by the armchair. And then of course, the man himself.

Robert Daws displays an incredible array of talent as the well spoken, hilariously self-depreciative novelist Pelham Grenville Wodehouse. Despite there being only one actor filling the big stage, there are dozens of characters which come alive as he flits between amusing anecdotes, conversations and impersonations. Much to the delight of the audience, when recounting conversations, Wodehouse confides with us his sarcastic thoughts and quips. Although played well, it was occasionally hard to follow and I found myself listening one sentence at a time rather than remembering the point he was originally trying to make. In many ways it felt as if I’d found myself trapped in the quaint house of an ageing neighbour, unable to extract myself from a very one-sided conversation whilst deeply regretting having made small talk some three hours earlier.

On the other hand, there were a few jolly songs thrown into the mix to break up the interminable dialogue as Daws impressed with a strong, melodious voice and mischievous lyrics. Interestingly, some were very simple and blithe such as one about a dog called Rover, during which Daws reminded me slightly of an enthusiastic children’s TV presenter. Alternatively, there were more serious songs professing a deep-rooted love for his wife, and even expressing his grief when the play suddenly took a surprisingly tragic turn near the end. Though this mixed things up a little, it did make me wonder exactly what I was watching. Comedy? Musical? Children’s programme? Tragedy? Director Robin Herford ensured it was a blend of everything!

Containing excerpts of his acclaimed novels, re-enactments of Wodehouse’s famous broadcasts which decimated his reputation in back in Britain, and a cleverly biographical angle, there could be no better way to pay tribute to the acclaimed writer than this unique piece of theatre. As descriptive and poetic as a novel itself, the script very much reflected the themes and joviality of Wodehouse’s books themselves- very cleverly done. Whilst it may not be my favourite type of genre, the large audience giggled the entire way through and the final bows were met with appreciative cheers.

Header Image Credit: Octagon Theatre 2023

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