Writer: Jerome K. Jerome
Director/Adaptor: Craig Gilbert
Reviewer: Georgina Newman
Director and adaptor Craig Gilbert has struck gold here – this is a masterly adaptation of Jerome K Jerome’s 1889 episodic novel, Three Men in a Boat, with a performance by The Original Theatre Company that is well co-ordinated, uproariously funny, and evidently very well-rehearsed.
The setup is simple: three old friends and companioning hypochondriacs – J, George, and Harris – who have turned idleness into an art form but now complain of giddiness and overwork, decide to take a boating holiday on the Thames as a means of remedy. A happy idea in theory, but as the trio set off on their “soul-enhancing” journey up the river, with their trusty toy-dog companion Montmorency in tow, comic misadventure plays out in one extended anecdote.
The rôles of J, George, and Harris are colourfully brought to life. Alastair Whatley as J, with his commentator’s hat on, carries the show well; Christopher Brandon is delightful as George, slick, and showing talent in spades; Tom Hackney is hilarious as the lovable doofus Harris. As a group of close-knit friends they are believable, each being a foil for the other. Comic timing/interaction is flawless throughout despite the speedy delivery of lines and the fast-paced nature of this adaptation. The three actors as sole performers have the task of interpreting all the characters they meet during their trip, and each interpretation is done with aplomb.
The music is superb if far-ranging, with dance hall-style improvisations. Sue Appleby takes an invented rôle as Nelly Hancock (billed as pianist extraordinaire) who expertly provides all necessary musical accompaniments. Elgar features, there’s the recurring melody of Debussy’s Clair de Lune, a brief take on David Bowie’s Heroes, plus many humour-inducing moments during the Chariots of Fire theme tune and a Titanic reference, all regardless of an 1898 setting. Appleby even makes use of an accordion and a mouth whistle – the latter used to denote the boiling of the kettle whenever one of the three men fancies a cup of tea.
Victoria Spearing’s set – which remains the interior of ‘The Elusive Pelican Pub’ throughout – is fully equipped with everything used during performance. With the exception of a few boards and chairs to form a boat at various times, all other settings are imagined and skilfully evoked by the acting trio. An incident at Waterloo Station in which Brandon assumes the rôle of station porter/train driver and agrees to take the remaining two to Kingston is re-enacted using minimal props, and by cleverly simulating the sounds and effects of a bumpy, breezy train journey.
The skill, artistry and professionalism of the four actors make this a very enjoyable, memorable production. This seems something which had to be rehearsed to perfection and the result really pays off. A few moments are edited out, including the Hampton Court Maze incident, but the spirit of Jerome’s effort is captured and revitalised on stage, as humour intended.