Jeeves / By Jeeves: Interviews

This section contains interviews with Alan Ayckbourn and Andrew Lloyd Webber about the musicals Jeeves & By Jeeves. Click on the links above or in the box below for more interviews.

This page features extracts from the article The Butler Did It by Bill Hagerty, published in The Sunday Times on 7 July 1996.

The Butler Did It

Andrew Lloyd Webber: "Heaven knows what the five people who went to see the original will say."

Alan Ayckbourn:
"I picked up the original book I wrote and threw it away. It was very hard to know at the time just what was wrong - we were too busy running around trying to repair what was a damaged juggernaut that was always going to crash. And at that stage neither of us had the clout to slam the brakes on."

ALW: "Originally, Jeeves was a complete disaster. So many business decisions being made that I was, if you like, denied access. It made me determined never again to have people who know nothing about the musical theatre involved with my work."

AA: "The original script was, without doubt, undo-able. I said, 'Let's get a script together that we know is the right length - the first one was 4½ hours or something - and I'll see whether we can include any existing numbers, but I can't guarantee it.'"

ALW: "My initial reaction was no, but Hal Prince had advised me to bank the score after Jeeves flopped and what Alan had done was just the right scale for the idea."

AA: "The man [P G Wodehouse] was a brilliant, brilliant novelist, and a great lyricist, but he did not necessarily provide great structures for the stage. So I reread quite a few of the books and then wrote what I suppose is a classic mistaken-identity plot that could have been used in any farce, from Feydeau onwards. Inevitably, with my head being full of Wodehouse, I can't actually chart what is him and what is me any more."

AA: "For the original show, Andrew had produced most of the score and I set words into it. In retrospect, Andrew will agree that it can't work that way. You can't be successful when you are saying, 'We are going to have this jolly number - can we somehow adjust the story to include it?'"

AA: "The way we worked this time was that I would send Andrew a dummy lyric - there's a song called By Jeeves, which I suggested might make quite a nice title song and said, 'God knows where you take it, but it's something like By George, By Jove, By Jeeves.' Andrew came back with a melody that was terrific but which didn't much resemble what I had written, yet By George, By Jove, By Jeeves was very clearly in there."

AA: "We knew we mustn't let it run away into a lunatic elephant charge. Andrew, with his usual discretion, invited about a hundred people [to the first workshop] and when the cast heard that, they said, 'I want to ask my mum.' Those occasions are full of traps, but this one went very well and the piece needed very little alteration before it was to open the season in Scarborough."

Copyright: Bill Hagerty.