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Not quite the right cast
on 1 March 2004
To make it clear from the outset - the book is great. There is no point saying the same thing over twice, so if anyone wishes to get my views on the Wodehouse text, there is a review out there somewhere in the system, with five stars.
The danger with a dramatisation of a favourite book - radio or TV - is that it never matches your mental image of the characters. Coming to a dramatisation like this, therefore, one always has to brace ones self for a bit of jarring. This dramatisation jarred me a little too much, however. The actors were fine, the adaptation of the script was very good - if occasionally a little clumsy in communicating some of the scene setting. The problem was that the principle characters of Richard Briers as Bertie Wooster and Michael Hordern as Jeeves.
Hordern comes across as very remote, and more than a little disdainful of the young lord and master. This may have been how the very early Jeeves was written, but it did not last long. Wodehouse wanted to build Jeeves into a sympathetic character, tolerant - even indulgent - of Wooster. Hordern plays Jeeves as if he were on the verge of resigning in irritation with Wooster.
Jeeves is given a fairly limited presence in the dramatisation. This is generally the case in the book, of course, where (with the exception of one short story) Bertie Wooster is the narrator. However, Jeeves always "punches above his weight" because the text always gives Bertie's thoughts on Jeeves, or reactions to him - and that is quite lacking here. The limited role for Jeeves also exposes the second key flaw, which is that Richard Briers (though putting in a commendable performance) can not pull-off the voice of a young man in his mid twenties. Briers sounds like a middle aged person playing a young person, and it grates in a role like that of Bertie Wooster. This far more pronounced than with the TV part played by Hugh Laurie - who was also playing a younger person - perhaps because Briers has chosen to emphasise the "breathless schoolboy" enthusiasm in the part. Unfortunately for Briers this does not create an image of a social butterfly in his twenties, and instead reminds the listener of Briers playing "Tom" in "The Good Life" sitcom. We have the same endearing boyishness, but it is a middle aged man exhibiting this attitude, and that does not come across correctly.
There are, of course, a limited number of these dramatisations available, and as previous critics have noted there are far worse ways of passing a drive. The story is good, and that helps carry the audiobook. The actors are not bad by any means, but the interpretation of the two principle characters makes it very difficult to suspend disbelief and give oneself over to enjoyment of Wodehouse's sparkling prose.