What Ho! Comedy Star Chris Ryan Discusses Jeeves & Wooster On Stage

After conquering the West End, including a 2014 Olivier Award for Best Comedy, PG Wodehouse’s iconic pairing Jeeves & Wooster bring their trademark humour to Cardiff’s New Theatre this week.
Adapted from Wodehouse’s works, Perfect Nonsense is a wonderful new play with a hilarious cast. Edward Hancock plays the effervescent Wooster while narrating this outrageous tale as Jeeves is Jason Thorpe who also has to run around building the set and enacting all the other characters.
Helping Jeeves bring the characters to life is fellow butler Seppings, played by Chris Ryan, perhaps best remembered by a generation of comedy fans for his appearances in TV’s The Young Ones, Bottom and Absolutely Fabulous.
Andy Howells recently chatted with the actor about his career and of course Perfect Nonsense.

Were you a fan of PG Wodehouse?
I’m not an aficionado or anything but I did read The Blandings and Lord Emsworth, things like that. As for Jeeves & Wooster, I do remember watching Ian Carmichael and Dennis Price in the 60s. Obviously these days most people remember Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie but I thought Ian Carmichael and Dennis Price were very good to.

How have you found playing Seppings in the touring version of Perfect Nonsense?
It involves for me so much energy and concentration so each show is totally energised, committed and concentrated. Its not enjoyment so much in the sense of going out there  and having fun but if the audience are having fun that gives me satisfaction in that its working.

Do you prefer working on stage or television?
I feel more comfortable and at home in the theatre. I never feel particularly comfortable doing film and television they are such technical mediums. In the theatre, you get the immediate response you’re on the tightrope because you can’t say “Cut! We’ll do it again,” you keep going. You start at the beginning go through the middle then to the end and do it night after night so you can refine, change and develop things. When I started in theatre I didn’t think about television or things like that. I did repertory theatre through the 70s and my first television was in 1978, a non-speaking part in the Patrick Mower series Target and then other bits and pieces.

Was it true you were an original member of The Flying Pickets?
That’s interesting because in 1980, I was in a political left-wing company called 7:84 by John McGrath and we’d done a play by John Burrows called One Big Blow which was all men and about a group of miners who were also a brass band. We did everything vocally, harmonies and sing all types of pop stuff from all periods and we’d travel from place to place as the band.
Then we did one gig at the Albany Empire but that was the only one I did. We called ourselves tentatively The Flying Pickets. I think it might have been Brian Hibbard who thought of that, he was a wonderful actor who had that Welsh darkness. He was like a piece of coal in a way it was extraordinary the quality he had.
We did that at the Albany Empire and then I was asked to do the play Can’t Pay Won’t Pay.  They revived One Big Blow and then from that they obviously developed it and went on. I can’t claim to be a Flying Picket, I was probably in the prototype but id left the company by then.

How did you come by your part of Mike in the TV comedy The Young Ones?
I was doing a play at the Criterion Theatre called Cant Pay Wont Pay which was a Dario Fo political farce. I was in the play with an actress called Maggie Steed whose partner at the time was Andy De La Tour, he was part of that group and I think he suggested me.
They were looking for someone to play this character (Mike, the cool person). It was only after it was all over and done with that I discovered that originally it was going to be Peter Richardson, who was the comedy partner of Nigel Planer. I went along to the BBC and met Paul Jackson who was producing and directing and read with Nigel and Rik Mayall. I don’t think Ade Edmondson was there on that particular day, I did some little improvisation things. This was all in order to do a pilot which we did and that pilot became the first episode. Then it was commissioned for a series and then another. We only did twelve episodes, six in 1982 and six in 1984.
Subsequently from that, we did Waiting for Godot in the West End with Philip Jackson playing Pozzo. I played Lucky and Rik and Ade played Vladimir and Estragon and then they asked if I could play Hedgehog in Bottom. By then, Ade had married Jennifer Saunders who wrote Absolutely Fabulous, she wrote this character called Marshall for me who was one of her ex husbands. Its funny how these things relate.

You also have the distinction of appearing as aliens in the classic and new series of Doctor Who. Did you find it a challenge to act through prosthetics?
Somebody said that to me and I didn’t realise that. I know there are many people who know everything about it.  That was three and half hours getting all that stuff on with very heavy costume as well. That was another “something else” wasn’t it? Very hard work again acting your way through the costume and the make up and everything to show the character.

Would you like to return to Doctor Who in the future?
If they asked me! They’ve done more with Sontaran’s but haven’t asked me but that’s fine because other people get a chance. If they asked again, I’d certainly think about it. I know the score now, with the make up and the rest of it.

So back to Jeeves & Wooster, how would you describe the show to people planning to come and see it?
It’s universal, timeless and fun. The response we’ve had through the tour has been very enthusiastic, especially at the end of the show. Hopefully they’ll get a taste for Wodehouse and it may prompt them to read the books.

  • Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense is at the New Theatre until Saturday 13 June. Tickets are on sale now with prices ranging from £11.00 to £33.00. For further details about the show or to book tickets* visit newtheatrecardiff.co.uk or call the Box Office on (029) 2087 8889. 
  • A shorter version of this interview by Andy Howells appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on June 5, 2015. Read the e-edition here.

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