Jeeves / By Jeeves: Articles

This section contains articles by Alan Ayckbourn and other authors on Jeeves / By Jeeves. Click on the links below in the right-hand column to read the relevant article.

This is an extract from an article published by The Guardian on 1 May 2020 by Kate Wyver looking at playwright's experiences with their flop shows. Here Alan Ayckbourn talks about his musical Jeeves (1975).

'The Audience Booed, The Cast Fled' - Playwrights Relive Their Worst Flops.

‘It was doomed from the start!’
Alan Ayckbourn on Jeeves (1975)

The biggest failure I ever had was my first attempt at a musical. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice had just had two big successes with
Joseph and Jesus Christ Superstar, and I was the golden boy of the West End at that point. So somebody had the bright idea of bringing the three of us together to adapt the stories of PG Wodehouse.

It was doomed from the start. People were jumping on board with no previous experience. It was a case of the blind leading the blind. Tim had cold feet and Andrew said I could be the lyricist - “piece of cake”. I remember thinking Hammerstein and Gershwin would be turning in their graves.

We had this idea that David Wood (playing Bingo Little) would be on a chandelier swinging around, but found out he gets the most appalling vertigo. He got up on his toes and he started screaming, so we had to abandon it.

I wrote something that was enormously long and we never actually did a run-through. The first performance went on and on and on. The musicians had a four-hour call, so once we got to the four-hour mark, they all trailed out and went to the pub. The poor conductor very gallantly ran for the piano and played the last number, but with the cast not being operatically trained, they were completely thrown once they’d lost their harmonies. There was a lot of slamming of seats.

We made ruthless cuts and staggered on. It never got any better. I cut some ballet sequences and the choreographer walked out. Come first night, Andrew said: “Are you going to sit in?” I said: “No, I don’t think so.” We went to a club round the corner and came back at the end. Apparently the audience had been booing. The rest of the cast had fled.

We went to see David Hemmings, who was playing Bertie Wooster, who we heard was still in his dressing room. He was crying and sitting in the shower so I stepped in to get to him and told him it was all our fault. I was soaking wet, it was like a farce. It ran for another three sad weeks and got universally awful reviews. I said that was my lot as far as musicals are concerned. The next thing I did was
Bedroom Farce, no songs at all.

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