Bernard Cuffling is back at the Chemainus Theatre for the final episode of a trilogy of plays in Jeeves Takes a Bow from Sept. 8-30.
The veteran actor — a real favourite with theatregoers — returns once more to shepherd hapless Bertie Wooster through the minefield of English upper class life in 1920s.
Director Mark DuMez knows Cuffling well, and takes time out to comment on his history in his notes about the production.
“Yes, he is a member of the BC Hall of Fame. Every time I am downtown in Vancouver, I take a picture by his sidewalk star. Yes, he has directed and performed all over Canada and numerous times at Chemainus Theatre Festival, delighting thousands, perhaps millions by now. Yes, he is a consummate storyteller and if you get a chance to hear him as a raconteur at one of our members events, you will be delighted. By along with his fame and character, and along with so many of the lovely artists I have had the pleasure to spend time with in Chemainus Bernard consistently reminds me of the values of spirit, story and artistry. In the extremes of comic delights, dramatic intensity, or backstage confines, he dignifies those around him. Like all the best artists, he is a servant to the creative work.”
The Citizen had a chance to speak to Kirk Smith (Bertie Wooster) and Kate Dion-Richard (hopeful girlfriend Vivienne Duckworth) during a rehearsal last week to find out what they think of stepping into the world of Jeeves.
Both knew about P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster stories before they started work on the play, but there the similarity ends.
“A friend of mine when I was in high school was really into them and gave me one of the stories for a birthday present one time but I didn’t have a lot of experience with them. I just knew of the stories,” Smith said.
So, he’s never seen the legendary pairing of Stephen Fry as Jeeves and Hugh Laurie as Wooster, who starred in an English TV series in the 1990s.
“I love them, but I made a conscious choice not to watch it. I’m excited, once the show’s finished, to watch those but when you’re trying to come up with your own characterization, it’s nice not to have someone else immediately in your mind.”
Dion-Richard, on the other hand, grew up as a fan of that legendary TV series.
“I definitely have that in my mind. But, starting this, I found my character is a newer character, so I got to have fun with that.”
Asked how they have gone about presenting the special silliness of another place and time that permeates the Jeeves stories, both actors said it’s been intriguing.
Smith said, “I think that’s why we have shows like this. I think it’s great to have theatre that teaches you something and theatre that makes you feel human emotions and question, and then there’s a place for theatre that makes you step out of your life for a little while and laugh. In a show like this, where it is so silly, the important thing is that the characters themselves don’t realize how silly it is. They are completely naive. So when they are freaking out at what is coming at them, they have to legitimately be terrified. It’s watching them squirm and try maneouvre their way through in all seriousness that is so funny.”
Dion-Richard agreed and finds that the silliness extends to the rehearsal hall, too.
“It’s so much fun and very hard to stop myself from laughing. I can’t wait for the audience to join in with us because, as Kirk said, there is a place for it. There’s so much energy, happiness, and confusion that will hopefully make people forget their daily troubles and enjoy themselves. There’s a real sense of escapism. It’s lovely.”
Time has moved on from the idea of an aristocrat and his “gentleman’s gentleman” but the pair have researched their roles thoroughly, as Smith said, with TV shows around now like Downton Abbey and films such as Gosford Park, “there is a lot out there that’s already been created. And that’s the fun about theatre: you can say things you would never say in real life.”
Finally, we asked our favourite question: What are audiences going to like best about this show?
“I think it’s the way people work together and play off each other. Everyone brings something unique and the way it all plays in and fits together is really special. People will enjoy that,” Smith commented.
Dion-Richard thinks everyone will love “the hilarity of Bertie, Binky, and Jeeves. There is mistaken identity that’s great fun to watch. I think the audience will have a great time with this.”
To reserve your tickets for what is sure to be a popular show, visit chemainustheatre.ca online or call 1-800-565-7738.