Stephen Mangan has played a few literary characters in his time: Adrian Mole, Dirk Gently, Postman Pat (he’ll be on delivery in 2014, presumably when things have settled, post privatisation).

Bertie Wooster is probably closest to the latter.

“He is lovable partly because he is so benign,” says Mangan. “He is not nasty. He is not snobbish. He is just not very bright. But he has wonderful enthusiasm and a bouncebackability whatever happens to him.”

Mangan, as affable in person as on stage and on screen, is backstage at London’s Union Chapel. Sitting beside him is Matthew Macfadyen. The pair are preparing for a new theatre adaptation of PG Wodehouse’s rollicking Jeeves stories.

Convoluted plots are one reason the first stage attempt by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Alan Ayckbourn in the mid-1970s flopped (though a rewrite in the 1990s had more success).

So when Episodes and Green Wing star Mangan describes Perfect Nonsense as bewilderingly complex, Wodehousians might feel worried.

“Bewildering is the word rather than fun. There are so many characters. But we are currently trying to unpick it. You have to take it all apart and put it together again.”

Mangan’s last stage role in Birthday at the Royal Court Theatre involved giving birth on stage. He shouldn’t be phased by bringing together Robert and David Goodale’s script under the direction of Sean Foley, whose stage hit The Ladykillers is back in the West End.

Macfadyen, to many people still best known for stony-faced MI5 officer Tom Quinn in Spooks, plays Jeeves. With only three actors playing eight characters, plus numerous sets and costume changes, he says it is the most technical show he’s done.

“Not only are Jeeves and Bertie coping with telling the story, they are also coping with putting on a play to tell the story. They are making the sets, wheeling the sets, changing characters, trying to improvise the story with what’s to hand,” says Mac- fadyen.

It’s a play within a play, which begins with Bertie regaling a tale to his pals at The Drones Club. When they suggest he put on a play to tell his story, he hires a theatre.

Things get in a muddle when there is no one to play legendary literary heroes Gussie Fink-Nottle, Stiffy Byng and Roderick Spode. Naturally, in comes Jeeves – and for this show, his valeting colleague Seppings – to help.

“It is not just the story – it’s three people trying to tell the story, interact with the story, and this has never been done,” explains Mangan.

“It’s completely new. We are not trying to replicate the books in a straightforward way. That’s why it appealed.”

The Goodale brothers wrote mostly from The Code Of The Woosters (which introduced the cow creamer to a new generation), with bits cherry-picked from other books to make a sort of greatest hits. But it’s Wodehouse who provides the gags.

“There are more incredible lines per page than most writers manage in their whole career,” smiles Mangan.

“No one was better at constructing a funny sentence in the English language than PG Wodehouse. As much as possible they have left in his work wholesale, which is what is smart and why it works so well.”

Neither Mangan nor Macfadyen had read any Wodehouse before being offered the part.

“You hear everyone talking about him being the greatest comic writer in the English language and you think, ‘I must read him one day’,” reveals Mangan.

“Then you get this part and you think, ‘I must read him now’. I’ve been ploughing through them. They are just as good as everybody says.”

Much of the success comes down to Wodehouse’s prose. But he cleverly avoided mentioning the wars despite thrashing out the novels in the early 20th century. His is an idealised version of England.

“It is this eternal summer completely in a bubble, and that is why it was fantastic escapism. You disappear into this lovely golden world where the most serious thing that happens is Bertie might have to become engaged to a girl or Jeeves doesn’t want to wear a checked suit.”

As for the pair’s relationship, Macfadyen quotes Wodehouse.

“There is a sense of them being married. Bertie says it is two men of iron will living in close proximity to each other.”