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Book Report: Four Plays (Wodehouse)

Your Humble Blogger has ruminated in the past about adapting Leave it to Psmith for the screen, at which time it was suggested by Gentle Reader Chris Cobb that I get my grubby paws on the stage adaptation. Yes, that was more than two years ago, but I only recently got around to requesting the thing through interlibrary loan. I was disappointed in the adaptation, frankly. For reasons that are not clear to YHB, they transported the thing from Blandings to another Stately Home very similar to Blandings, replaced Lord Emsworth with another Stately Peer very similar to Clarence, and replaced Lady Constance with a character substantially inferior to Lady Constance. And Phyllis Jackson is replaced by an entirely different character named Phyllis Jackson, one not married to Mike Jackson at all but engaged to Freddie (who is not Freddie). On the other hand, Eve is pretty solidly Eve, Miss Peavey is gloriously Miss Peavey, and Psmith is Psmith, which is the best thing you could say about anyone.

As for the adaptation, Mr. Wodehouse (and probably some other uncredited writer) put Act One at the door to the Tube station just down from the Senior Conservative Club. This allows for a lot to happen quite quickly. Alas, that means we only see Psmith go into the club and come out again with Comrade Walderwick’s umbrella, but we do meet Comrade Walderwick, not once but several times, as he is one of the Berties and Algies who come to the weekend at not-Blandings.

Which brings me to my real disappointment, which is that Mr. Wodehouse writes with a very free hand to paying castmembers. There are about a million of them. Many with lines to say. I cannot imagine attempting to cast the thing at a community theater, drawing on available talent, and I cannot imagine attempting to cast the thing at a professional theater, drawing on available money. Things must have been very different in the old days. I mean, I know it was, I have read plays of the thirties before. But this was ridiculous. Utterly prohibitive. The thing would require an altogether new adaptation of the adaptation, if anyone wanted to try it.

On the plus side, the play is in a collection called Four Plays, and although I didn’t manage to read the Jeeves play before returning the thing to my ILL hero, I did reread The Play’s the Thing, which really is a wonderful play. It’s good to be reminded of that, because I do prefer the adaptation by Tom Stoppard, which is called Rough Crossing. The original is called The Play in the Castle, and it is by Ferenc Molnar, who is, of course, wonderful. The last play is also an adaptation of a Hungarian play, this one by Ladislaus Fodor, and this one is really good. I mean, snappy. And with a managable cast, too. There is a moment near the end where our Leading Man threatens to rape the Leading Lady, which might ruin the whole play, though. I mean, it’s pretty clear he doesn’t mean it, and it’s very very clear that it won’t happen, but even to be brought up in talk, well, I don’t know. Do productions of Woody Allen’s Play It Again, Sam these days cut out the lines about rape? I certainly would. Well, anyway, I hadn’t read Bill before, and I really enjoyed reading it, so that’s all right.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


It is disappointing that the playscript for Leave it to Psmith isn't better. Be that as it may, you have identified a positive need for "an altogether new adaptation," which might be possibly become the point of departure for a screenplay. . .

May I add that I would hope that a stageable script would not include a scene set in front of a Tube station? I am at least as big a fan of the London Underground as the next person, I think, but I can recall no reference to it in the novel Leave it to Psmith, or in any other Wodehouse story that I have read, for that matter. I feel that Wodehouse's reticence on this subject is appropriate: I shudder to think of Lord Emsworth's opinion of the Tube, if he is even aware of its existence.

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