Jeeves And Wooster In Perfect Nonsense
Chichester Festival Theatre, Oaklands Park, Tuesday, March 3, to Saturday, March 7

ROBERT Webb’s tailor had better be on standby, as he takes the hapless Bertie Wooster on tour, following a three-month run at London’s Duke Of York’s Theatre last year.

“I had to take my trousers in twice last time, I lost half-a-stone – which means I can have as many biscuits as I like,” says the Peep Show star, as he prepares to start tour rehearsals alongside Jason Thorpe as Jeeves and Young Ones star Christopher Ryan as the much put-upon butler Seppings.

A big reason for that weight loss is the pure physical energy of the Goodale Brothers’ play, based loosely on PG Wodehouse’s classic farce The Code Of The Woosters.

“By the time I have rehearsed it for three weeks I will be match fit,” says Webb. “It is an enormous physical performance – it’s the kind of show where the audience will reward you the more energy you throw at them.”

The Olivier Award-winning farce, directed by Sean Foley, sees the loveable Wooster recount the tale of a recent set of mishaps, all triggered by his uncle’s desire to obtain a silver cow-creamer from an antiques shop. Many of Wodehouse’s much-loved characters, from the formidable Aunt Dahlia to the black-shorted Fascist Spode make an appearance, as Jeeves and Seppings step in to help tell the story.

“Bertie is such a massive doofus,” says Webb. “My job is to insist that the audience love him within the first 20 seconds of the curtain coming up, otherwise we haven’t got a show. He’s such a prat, but such an optimist too, so delighted and enthusiastic about everything. He just becomes irresistible.”

Although Webb admits as a teenager having watched the classic 1990s television take on Jeeves And Wooster portrayed by the comedy double act Fry and Laurie, he says his take on the character is very different.

“What Hugh Laurie did doesn’t really bear much comparison,” he says. “It’s a very different medium. If you blurted out this enormous performance on television it would look insane, and if you did something relatively sensible and naturalistic as he did on television it would be lost on stage. I didn’t really borrow anything from Hugh.”

As he spoke to The Guide he was looking forward to working with his fellow co-stars.

“I haven’t worked with either before,” he says. “You have really got to trust each other – it’s one of the fun aspects of the show. We’re like the Three Musketeers trying to put Bertie’s show on. The theatre going wrong is comedy on top of Wodehouse’s original story.”

The double act has run through much of Webb’s career, starting out when he met David Mitchell at a Cambridge Footlights audition in 1993.

“I wasn’t interested in stand-up, I wanted people to act with and write with,” says Webb. “David happened to be that chap. We didn’t have any great plan to be a double act – it just worked out that way. That double act thing of not talking to the audience feels quite natural to me.”

When asked whether he is planning a companion volume to David Mitchell’s 2012 memoir Back Story he admits he is thinking of doing something along the same lines.

“I read the second half of David’s book first,” he laughs. “I figured that would be the bit I was in! The first half was equally good though – I do know David back to front so there were no surprises.”

The pair are set to work together again later this year in the recording sessions for the ninth and final series of Channel Four sitcom Peep Show.

“We haven’t filmed a Peep Show series for nearly two years,” says Webb, adding he hasn’t been waiting by the phone for it to return.

“There’s always something to write or bits and bobs to do. It has been the backbone of mine and David’s career, so it will be odd when it stops.”

Starts 7.30pm, 2.30pm matinees Thurs and Sat, tickets from £14. Call 01243 781312