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Arts reviews: Frightfully good play is no joke; Beyond A Joke Malvern Festival Theatres.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, which is one way of saying that the broadcasts P G Wodehouse made for the Nazis during the war were probably never intended to actually damage British morale.

Anton Rodgers plays the creator of Bertie Wooster rather as if he were playing the character himself - irredeemably inept and unflaggingly affable. Thus, Mr Rodgers gives us a character who is feckless and inadequate when confronted with the consequences of what he has done. And the grim truth in Roger Milner's beautifully written, and well researched play is that the liberation of Paris in 1944, which is where we find Wodehouse and his wife Ethel, ensconced in comfort at the Hotel Bristol (a splendid setting by Simon Higlett) brings unexpected consequences with it, since Wodehouse, who had a cushy life under the Nazi occupation, is labelled a collaborator and risks a war tribunal.

How the hunt for collaborators via the vengeful Marquis, affected the Wodehouses is the stuff of fine drama and under Christopher Morahan's beautifully observed direction the evening is a text book in style and elegance.

Angela Thorne is marvellous at Ethel , who keeps up her frightfully English sang-froid while knowing that her husband is being interrogated by the British military authorities and faces disgrace.

Seldom have I understood so well the anguish of a man who initially found it all - Hitler included - as rather good fun. Duff Cooper (the admirable Michael Cochrane) puts Wodehouse right in a brutal scene which pulls no punches. Frankly, I couldn't applaud loudly or long enough.

Running Time: Two and a half hours - until Saturday.
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Author:Edmonds, Richard
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Nov 1, 2000
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